Darwin to Bare Sand Island 08.
We had decided to sail to Bare Sand Island for a couple of days for a change of scenery. At this time of the year the turtles will be coming ashore to lay their eggs. These gentle animals come ashore from about April to August to lay their eggs. Moon phases and neap or spring tides don’t seem to have a particular relevance so we might be lucky and see their mighty trek up the beach.
Some nights as many as 50 turtles come ashore during the night to lay their eggs in the safely of the sand banks. The turtles are between 20 and 40 years old before they reach sexual maturity and lay about 15 to 30 eggs. Sometimes it might be up to 7 years before they lay again.
It is not unusual to arrive and find a large group of research students studying and tagging the turtles.
Arriving at Bare Sand Island, we navigated around the sand bars and into the channel on a low tide. This channel is not very wide and while one side of it drops deeply against the beach making a great anchorage, the other side is shallow and surrounded by reef and sea grasses. We were the only yacht here but a small ‘tinny’was anchored onshore and a tent pitched further up in the sand dunes..
We put our tender ‘Ethel’ down and went ashore to stretch our legs. While Cam walked along the front of the beach I struck up a conversation with the couple from Darwin.
Like us, they had come to watch the turtles and have a bottle of wine while enjoying the sunset over the Timor Sea.
At 8.30pm Cam and I headed back to the beach with our cameras, chairs, pillows and doona and set in for the wait. I lay down and searched the stars for constellations I recognized. The sky was fairly clear but the moon was directly over head and half full. This gave us too much light for star gazing but it was perfect for turtle watching.
At about 9.30pm the first turtle came ashore. She was a Flat Back and about 3 feet long and 1 ½ feet across her shell. She lumbered up the beach and into the foot of the sand dunes to dig her nest. At this point we become as still as mice so as not to disturb her. After digging a crater like hole to submerge herself, she dug a chamber with her back flippers about the size of a 2 gallon bucket to lay her eggs. She would reach down with first one flipper and take a scoop of sand out, then lift and flip it to the top of the hole and over the side before repeating it with the other flipper. She had been here before as she had been tagged. The tags were small metal clips attached to her front flippers; some times you would see turtles with 3 or 4 clips attached like the latest fashionable earrings.
We set up our chairs and sat quietly while she settled herself and got busy digging. \
When she started to lay her eggs they seemed to come out in pairs. She lay about 25-30 eggs. It was at this time I was able to get some good photos without disturbing her. After she had finished laying her eggs she threw sand over her nest for about 30 minutes and scuffled around so her nest wasn’t obvious to predators. Not that there would be too many of them on bare Sand Island.
. On this island birds are about the only predators and that is only when the babies are making their way to the water.
Wind and tide erosion sometimes causes nests to be exposed and then eggs or hatchlings are lost.
From leaving the water to returning to the waves took our turtle 1 ½ hours.
It was time for us to return to Dream Weaver1 and our warm bed.