Starting research on hatchling fitness

So it’s been about a week since I last wrote down my thoughts, and I have some updates. I still am so happy and loving life, but this week I’ve been so so busy with new responsibilities. The biggest one is starting my work as an intern. For the first week I was in training, so I didn’t have my own group of volunteers. Now I do, so i has to train them on how to do night patrol, what to do when a mother lays a nest, how to do nest check/ excavation. And I also have to be on patrol with them for most of the night.

They’re a good group and two out of the four have been here before so they’re pretty self sufficient. This is really nice especially because I also started my research project looking at the fitness of hatchlings incubated in the sun and the shade, comparing between normal versus morphological abnormalities, in situ versus relocated, and sun versus shade. From a nest of emerge hatchlings I choose 20, ideally 10 normal 10 with an abnormal scute pattern. Green turtles typically have 5 vertebral scutes (scales in the middle of their back) and 4 costal scales (scales on each side). So abnormal hatchlings can have up to 10 scutes in the middle for example. So anyways each nest I test takes about two hours. In an ideal world I’d like to have 30-40 nests.

Mutant hatchlings. Normal hatchlings have five vertebral (middle) scutes and four costal (side) scutes

Volunteers for patrol 7 hours per night, and every third night it’s just 4 hours. Meaning very very little sleep. I am a girl who loves sleep so this has been quite an adjustment. Then during the day i have more duties such as leading outreach when visitors come to teach them about turtles and the program here. I also have paperwork to do each day for at least two hours, helping prepare meals (Being veg means I’m often on my own for meals) and then entering my data onto my laptop takes ages. So very little time left for napping and blogging. But I can’t complain, my research is interesting and exciting and I have so much help by a fellow grad student Marion. She has a similar pattern assessing the heritability of scute abnormalities so she looks at the scute patterns of hatchlings from each nest and also measures their length width and mass. So things go way faster when I have her help.

During the day I also have to pick out what nests to use for my experiment, measure it’s distance from vegetation, check to see how deep the hatchlings are, and put up netting to catch the hatchlings when they emerge. The during my experiment I make each of the 20 hatchlings do a flip test, running test, and swimming test, as a proxy for fitness.

Method of catching hatchlings as they emerge from the nest
Flipping test
Swimming test
Running test

I didn’t come here knowing I’d do research, but how many chances will I get to have this incredible access to hatchlings, and know how many days they’ve been incubating and knowing the ID of the mother turtles. It’s a very unique opportunity and as always I’m trying to make the most out of it. I do still find time for myself, doing what I love like snorkeling, reading, and sleeping. Life is good and this experience has reminded me how much I love doing research and science, as well as outreach and teaching people about turtles and the threats they face.

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