Beachkeeper’s Diary #1

The Sandy Walk

The alarm buzz brings me reluctantly out of a deep sleep.  That sound is one I don’t hear much anymore unless I must catch an early plane, which is seldom now, or it is Thursday.  Ah, Thursday.  That is the day I rise early and head to the beach.

I am one of 22 people who volunteer their time as beachkeepers for Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire (STCB).  Our job is to monitor turtle nesting spots on Bonaire and Klein Bonaire for 8 months of the year. Today I am out the door by 6:30am.  It is barely light.  I drive south for 20 minutes to a place called Kite Beach.  Normally, this strand is filled with kite surfers preparing their gear for a day of thrills and spills on the water.  But at 7am, I am here alone.  I strap on my Camel Pack full with ice water, cell phone, camera, keys and notebook.  With coffee thermos in hand, I begin my morning walk.

Hidden Beach

I head north for five minutes until the sand turns to rock.  No turtle would nest pass this point.  I then walk south past Fisherman’s Hut, and the dive sites Vista Blue and Sweet Dreams.  My stroll terminates at Hidden Beach, a rock-walled, small piece of fine sand.  Along the way, I look for signs of turtle nesting—flipper tracks coming from the sea, a scrape of a wide body coming ashore, crawl marks and depressions that might indicate a fresh laying of eggs.  My first time out I found a nest.  Beginner’s luck.  Our group has found four to date, all loggerhead turtle nests.  Soon the hawksbill turtles will also begin to nest on the island.

I walk the mile and a half stretch without seeing anyone.  A cruising sloop sails north along the coast, probably completing a night passage with Kralendijk in mind.  I see a baker’s dozen of flamingos flying low overhead.  Their fiery pink forms are just yards above my head.  One squawks upon seeing me.  The flock is headed to the nearby Pekelmeer Sanctuary to swill brine and shrimp all day.   A juvenile black-crowned night heron scurries before my path.  It isn’t completely street wise yet and I get incredibly close to the bird.  It will soon learn to leave distance.

These times alone are great tonic for the soul.  When not looking for nests, I let my mind wander to contemplate life, consider Maria Sharapova’s chances for winning this year’s Wimbeldon and ponder the power of camembert cheese at room temperature .  I can do this easily on the return since my nest searching is complete.  But on the way back I also pick up trash, check confirmed nests to ensure humans or other animals haven’t tampered with them and take note of dog tracks and digging.  All this goes into a database.  It allows STCB to intelligently and quantitatively inform government agencies about the environmental issues facing sea turtles on Bonaire.

A wad of fishing line, a sea turtle’s nightmare.

I am now back on Kite Beach.  The Bonaire Kite School bus has just pulled in and two blond-haired surfers are getting ready for the day.  Chairs are set out.  Beer is iced down.  The coffee is brewing.  It is time for me to go before the others arrive.  I take the peace of the beach home with me and start the rest of the day.

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