I switched gears today, after four straight days of reef dives and snorkels, and joined the Turtle Team to conduct cliff surveys for sea turtles. Cliff surveys sound kind of relaxing – perch on a sea cliff with some sea breeze and shade, and observe turtles frolicking in the sea foam below. The reality today was quite different – hike in the mad dogs and Englishman’s noonday sun, bushwhack through the humid tropic jungle, teeter over razor sharp “convoluted” limestone and then stand (because the limestone is too sharp to sit) and stare into the glare looking for a brownish green turtle against brownish green rocks.
We surveyed four beaches, and each one competed with the last as the most un-hikeable, unforgiving terrain. I have hiked on some perilous tracks around the pacific, and the sea cliffs of Tinian now rate as some of the most challenging, inhospitable terrain I have encountered. Before we complain too much, I think about the young US Marines 69 years ago, slogging over the same terrain under Japanese fire, and shudder. Today is Liberation day, celebrated by the Chamorro people on Guam and the CNMI, to recognize the defeat of the Japanese occupation force by the Americans.
A huge highlight for me was drinking fresh coconut water after two hours on the rocks – Jesse selected the right nuts, and shaved them open with a razor sharp mini-axe he carries with him. Everything always tastes sweeter and more intense after vigorous outdoor activity, and we had that in spades.
As turtle surveying techniques go, I think cliff-line surveys are pretty low on my priority list. I didn’t help my own enthusiasm, I finding exactly zero turtles for four surveys. I did see one, but Kevin spotted it first, and it was right in front of me. My problem may be related to my keen interest in fish and birds, and my results from the day include some nice shots of the common birds around Tinian and the feeding fish that hit the surface and excite the birds and fishermen.
Our dives have been lengthy and numerous along the northwestern coast, which is riddled with tubes, caves and undercuts. Our fish count is over 215 for Tinian – I hope to get into the water over the next few days, around the harbor and a few southern beaches to sample some different habitats.