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Late night happiness at Pongara

On the spur of the moment the other night I decided to join friends Miguel, Josie, Ruth and her 2 friends from England on an overnight to Pongara National Park, across the estuary from Libreville. Pongara has one of the world’s highest densities of leatherback sea turtle nests and right now is the peak nesting season. Some of you may not know that I have been involved with sea turtle research as well as marine mammals throughout most of my career- either as a secondary part of my job or as a volunteer. In Florida I volunteer monitoring Loggerhead nesting from June-October each year, but I’ve never seen a live Leatherback and have wanted to see one for many years.

So we took an afternoon ferry across to Pongara and stayed at a house there that WCS friends kindly loaned us. At 10pm Ruth and her friends headed out to the beach (about a 20 min. walk up to a point where the estuary meets the Atlantic Ocean) and found 2 turtles on their way back to the sea after nesting. They called us back at the house and Josie, Miguel and I set out. Over the next several hours we found 2 leatherbacks nesting and were able to watch the entire process. It was fantastic! Not only are they enormous, but to watch an animal that has existed for literally millions of years nesting so instinctively was fascinating. Well worth going to bed at 3am!

Photo below: digging the nest one flipper-full at a time. Both the turtles we saw were tagged (you can see the silver tag on the right rear flipper below). I found out the following day from my friend Bas that one of them was tagged in 2003 in Gamba, which is several hundred miles south of where I saw her!

Eggs being laid into the nest. The last eggs were much smaller and probably were infertile. You can see one of the larger (normal size) eggs on the right side of the photo below.

Josie, Miguel and a nesting leatherback.

Heading back to the ocean after nesting. She will lay several clutches of eggs during the nesting season.

  • Anonymous

    January 7, 2008 at 4:10 pm Reply

    was it not scarry to be next to that guy with the head torch!?

  • Lucy

    January 9, 2008 at 2:15 am Reply

    I think it’s ok to have bad hair at that hour of night Miguel! 🙂

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