The day of the cyclone

Cyclone. Photo by NASA on Unsplash

On day two, the tropical cyclone that was tracking off the coast of Indonesia had weakened.

This meant that we wouldn’t have to evacuate the island. What it didn’t mean was that we were in the clear.

As the storm that was not a cyclone came in, some afternoon rain turned into the blackest night I have ever known, there was nothing to see and only the sound of the waves could be heard.

The rain threatened that night’s monitoring. Not because the conditions were dangerous in any way, but because we couldn’t record turtles seen on clipboards with paper if they were going to get wet. Our electronic tablets also were not to get wet.

I asked around, and nobody seemed to know if turtles mind the rain. Do they hate coming out of the ocean to nest if it’s raining because they will get wet? That seemed almost likely when it comes to turtles. Their love of wind, however, was well documented.

Last year, it was considered a coincidence when on the windiest nights they had unusual numbers of turtles nesting. With the behaviour repeating again this year it was beginning to look like a pattern.

Heading out

Eventually, we went out around 9.30 — having had a rare opportunity for everyone to eat together, in one place, at the same time, and take our time about it. There were a few turtles here and there, the usual routine. Nothing much to write home about, or to write a blog about.

Eventually, I took a walk on my own down the beach and past the jetty. After some distance past the jetty I didn’t see any fresh tracks in the wet sand, and I turned back. However, I didn’t go all the way down to the end of what was known as the “tagging area.” There could still be turtles there.

It was suggested that if I was going back, my fellow volunteer Jess might like to join me. I couldn’t tell if it was suggested she could join me because she might like a walk, or because she was more capable. Jess certainly was capable, either way.

It didn’t take long for Jess to spot a track above the high tide line where I hadn’t noticed it in the dark. We agreed between us we would cross it off the track for that missed turtle on the way back. When we found another track, Jess went to investigate further in the undergrowth.

That’s where she found a turtle, actively digging.

Since we were almost at the end of the tagging area, Jess suggested I watch the turtle and she’d check for further tracks or turtles. Reminding me to get all the equipment ready before she went, Jess disappeared into the dark night and the receding tide.

Photo by Reef Catchments.
Photo by Reef Catchments. https://flic.kr/p/c3n3DC

Getting everything ready wasn’t a quick task, so t’s lucky that turtles can take a long time to nest.

So in the dark, you fish out your clipboard and pen. You dig out the PIT tag scanner, to check if the turtle is new or returning. You find your tagging pliers and ready to two metal flipper tags, making a note of their numbers on the fresh data sheet. Then you find your applicator for the PIT tag, find your biopsy kit, and find your tape measure. 

All of this equipment is in one small backpack. It may sound like a lot, but should be easy to keep together and organised. It doesn’t take long for things to become disorganised.

While I was preparing and making notes, the turtle took advantage and made a break for the ocean. Jess tried to restrain it, but a determined mature flatback turtle is little match for one person on their own. It got away.

This was starting to become a habit, and if it was an actual job, I probably would have been fired by now.

The Turtle that Got Away

A flatback turtle crawls back into the ocean after laying eggs and being tagged.

The first turtle that night was spotted on the farthest reaches of the beach.

With high tide leaving little more than a metre of the beach’s sand for the turtle, we camped out in the vegetation to observe and be ready to move on the turtle when it was ready to return to the ocean.

Except she was taking her time. The turtle would dig a pit, give up on it, move on, dig another pit, give up, you get the idea.

Then suddenly she decided she’d had enough of digging unsatisfactory pits, and was ready to go back to the water. So we moved into position, blocking her path and ready to restrain her.

The turtle takes one look at this, and decides maybe she will have another go at digging pits after all. Once again she begins digging, giving up, moving on, digging, before again abandoning the plan.

We scramble to get to the turtle and we are right on the very edge of the high tide line, trying to see if she is a microchipped “returning” turtle, and suddenly a big wave comes washing in and we all jump out of the way. Except for the turtle, since turtles are not known for their ability to jump and she was waiting for exactly this. She’s on her way.

The tide pulls back and I take the brief moment of respite to try again to get that reading — then the waves come crashing back, and the turtle lifts with the current and floats away with a gentle kick of her flippers.

Returning and New

Volunteer Rebecca Evans and Parks and Wildlife officer Hannah Hampson measuring a flatback turtle.
Volunteer Rebecca Evans and Parks and Wildlife officer Hannah Hampson measuring a flatback. Photo: Liz Grant. Source: https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/news/item/2915-turtle-monitoring-taskforce-descends-on-pilbara-island

Let’s rewind this slightly, as some of you might be wondering what is a returning turtle? And why would they be microchipped?

Flatback turtles on the beaches of Thevenard Island fall into two categories: new turtles, and returning turtles.

Returning turtles are ones we have met before. They have been chipped, and they have been given identifying tags on their flippers. They are in the system.

New turtles haven’t been given any of these things, and so require the works: a chip in their shoulder, tags in their front flippers, a biopsy taken, and their measurements recorded.

These are the ones that get challenging.

Sandbank

Later that night, a turtle was spotted climbing up a steep sandbank. She gained many points for making it up the bank, but everyone knew that she was never going to nest up there — despite spending an hour or more, digging pits, rejecting them, and repeat.

Things got interesting when the turtle accidentally slid down the opposite side of the dune. Where there was no beach, only concrete. But, turtles being what they are, she continues wandering about, trying to dig pits in concrete, until one volunteer physically heaved her back onto the sand.

It was right around the time that she was coming down the slope towards us, and towards the issue, and we were preparing to scan and possibly tag her that another turtle emerged from the ocean.

And went straight up the exact same sandbank.

And did exactly the same thing, falling down the wrong side of the dune.

Past Midnight

Metal tag showing identification number. Photo: Stephen Connett.
Metal tag showing identification number. Photo: Stephen Connett.
Source: https://accstr.ufl.edu/resources/report-a-tag/

It was gone twelve and yet there were even more turtles (remember how the night before had no turtles at all?) emerging from the ocean, digging pits, laying eggs.

Our last turtle of the night had just one flipper tag. Where the other tag should have been there was a scar. She needed another, and it was my turn to do it.

Enough to say, it didn’t go as planned. The new tag instead had to be removed, while the turtle was less than impressed with proceedings. It didn’t end there, because she still needed that new tag. I did it again, and it was only slightly better.

Then the turtle needed a second tag to alongside the existing, original tag, and my skills at adding tags hadn’t much improved.

Turtles on the Beach

Australian beach with marine turtles

Sunrise on the beachMy first real day of turtles conservation started at 4.30am, having got to bed at midnight. We had to be looking for turtle tracks on the beach for 5am as the sun came up. “We” was me, and my roommate George.

One of us would take the car and drive to the opposite side of the island, and walk from there until they ended up back at base. The other would just start walking from the beach in front of our cabins and go until they reached the car.

I chose the second option. Before we leave camp we grab a backpack each, it has a tablet for recording the tracks of turtles we might see, and for me a bottle of water, a can of Solo, and a cereal bar. The cereal bar is for breakfast and my promise to myself that I’ll take a short break.

I marked my starting position and time on the tablet, made a brief note about the weather conditions, and started walking.

Seeing Turtles

Green marine turtle tracks in wet sand on the beach

Having seen no turtles the night before — not to mention none last year — I was excited to see a pair of turtles on my walk. They were easily identified, even at a distance, as green turtles from their domed shell. The fact that there were two of them, close together, was a good indication what they were doing.

I crouched quietly, watching them, for some time, gradually edging closer when they were looking the other way or when they were under the water, until they just gracefully swam away — either for more privacy or to continue their discussion somewhere else.

There were plenty of tracks to see, including green turtle tracks — distinguishable from flatback turtles in part because of the small holes in the sand their tails make as they make their way up the beach, but also flatback turtle tracks, too. There were tiny tracks, spreading out from holes in the sand, that I thought at first were hatchling tracks. On reflection and discussion with a supervisor it turned out they were probably crabs, instead.

As the day wore on it got less sunny and more windy. Windy nights meant there could be lots of turtles nesting. Or there could be a storm coming, after all there was a tropical cyclone off the coast of Indonesia…

Onslow and Onwards

Thevenard island

Onslow Stepping off the plane in Onslow, the first thing that struck me was that while it was warm it wasn’t hot. It’s strange the things you notice in a new place.

I thought to myself “This isn’t too bad. This is doable.”

Then I realised: it was only 8am. I’d forgotten what it was like in the Pilbara.

I spent a few hours hanging around in Onslow with the other volunteers where we picked up a few things from the local supermarket, and killed time in a hotel while waiting for our boat to Thevenard island .

The town boasts such attractions as the Onslow Goods Shed Museum. It may not seem like much, but in a part of the country that is alternately baked in the sun, thrashed with cyclones, and drowned in floods, it’s good going.

The jet boat trip from the mainland out to Thevenard takes about 45 minutes. Luckily for us, the crossing was smooth and the water beautiful blues and greens.

sky and sea

As we powered along, we saw something in the water up ahead. Was it something floating? Some discarded rubbish? Then it became clear: it was a turtle, just merrily swimming along.

One of the first things you see on Thevenard Island are Chevron’s decommissioned storage tanks.

Several huge, grey concrete structures dominate the island, and if they survive for centuries to come may one day be regarded like the statues on Easter Island.

That this conservation work exists alongside mining, oil and gas giants like Chevron or Rio Tinto is no surprise, since they help fund the programs, but it’s an uneasy partnership.

At night

At night, when you sit on the beach on Thevenard island it’s almost completely dark. Out in the ocean blinks the lights of offshore oil and gas facilities, and in the distant is the constantly-burning gas flame from Wheatstone Project.

The moon rises around 11pm, and the sky is blanketed with countless stars, with the occasional streak of a meteor.

about last nightThat first night was warm, humid, perfectly still and calm. And there was not a single turtle to see.

Apparently, they prefer windy nights.

It was just as well, since I had to be awake and on the beach at 5am the next morning.

Shipping off to Thevenard Island

sea turtles nesting

green marine turtleOn Friday, this rugged adventurer and all-round dashing outdoorsman will be on Thevenard Island.

It’s my second adventure in marine turtle conservation, and the game has changed since last year’s West Pilbara Turtle Program.

If you have been following closely, you’ll remember that the threatened flatback is native to Australia, and nests only in Australia, and the martine turtle holds cultural, spiritual and economic significance to Indigenous Australians from coastal regions.

Thevenard IslandThevenard Island

Thevenard island is a nature reserve, home to the traditional custodians of the land for tens of thousands of years, and more recently home to decommissioned Chevron-operated Gorgon gas project (who fund the North West Shelf Flatback Conservation Program.)

The island is one of the important turtle nesting site for flatback sea turtles, and in addition to flatbacks this year there will be green turtles and hawksbill turtles.

As well as other marine life like dolphins and dugongs, but who cares about those when you are there for the turtles.

Adventure is out there

Not only are there different turtles to be seen, on this adventure the work gets more hands on, too. Activities include taking tissue biopsies and fitting satellite trackers, on top of the more-familiar track monitoring of nesting turtles.

I’ve completed my online training. I’ve had my medical assessment, I’ve borrowed a head torch, and I need to start packing my bags and arranging my journey to the airport for my 6am flight.

Unlike last year’s adventure, I’ll be working with other people, too — a new challenge of its own. While other adventures, like the ones in Peru and Norway, involved other people I wasn’t working in a team. I was more of a team with my sled dogs in the Arctic than I was with the other people on the expedition.

You know it’s a good adventure when I’m feeling nervous about it. That means I’m getting out of my comfort zone.

Giving Tuesday: Matching Donations Today Only

Did you know that today is Giving Tuesday? It’s an international day of charity and giving, rather than shopping. For today only, I will personally match dollar for dollar donations to my JustGiving page.

If you donate $1, I will donate $1. If you donate $100 I will donate $100 of my own money.

If you donate $1,500 I’ll… get a job as a high class escort to afford it, and then donate $1,500.

But on the plus side I won’t have to ask for any more charitable donations after that. And it would be good blog fodder…

The Costa Rica & Nicaragua Expedition

Costa Rica

I wrote over a year ago about a Costa Rica adventure, traversing the country from one side to the other. I also wrote how prohibitively expensive it would be to do it.

With no real expectation to ever be able to do it, it’s been on my mind’s back-burner, alert to any opportunities to make it happen.

Which is why an opportunity advertised in Escape the City caught my eye: Communications Officer in Costa Rica. I’m a Corporate Communications Manager by trade, and find myself drawn to various aspects of comms, PR and marketing even when I’m not being paid for it.

So I checked it out.

If you’re a keen writer, volunteer to write blogs about sustainable development in rural communities and environments.

That could be me. I’m writing a blog right here, right now, for no money — and writing for an NGO about rural communities and environments would be helping make the world a better place.

It would also be fulfilling my purpose as the Flat Foot Adventurer: to have adventures, write about them, inspiring and educating people in the process.

I applied. Got a reply fairly quickly asking me to write a sample blog post. Some research and elbow grease later, I submitted the blog post and waited.

Just when I thought I was going to get a Sorry, no I got a reply saying how impressed they were with my post, and how impact focused it was. Instead of a thanks, but no thanks, I got an invitation to interview.

The interview went well, even if you include me getting off-topic and discussing how if you are bitten by a venomous snake you shouldn’t try and catch it to bring it to the hospital with you. And how Perth is one of the most remote cities on the planet.

I got offered the opportunity. I paid the deposit. I provided references. I’m going to Costa Rica for three months at the end of 2019.

Short of raising a small fortune to cover the cost of the expedition, plus funding flights to Costa Rica — and a whole galaxy of minute things to sort out when you are gallivanting around the jungles of central America — this is really happening.

Costa Rica rainforestThe Costa Rica Adventure

In the autumn of 2019, I join the Raleigh Expedition in Nicaragua & Costa Rica, as a volunteer communications officer.

Volunteers from diverse backgrounds and all over the world join Raleigh expeditions in different countries. On this particular trip, I will be working with rural communities in the very heart of Nicaragua and remote areas of Costa Rica.

As part of working to protect one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, projects on the expedition will involve working with local people on water and sanitation initiatives to bring clean water to rural communities, as well as helping construct school buildings for indigenous communities.

One of Raleigh’s core values is creating impact together. Passionate about change, Raleigh ensure that positive results are meaningful, long-lasting and far reaching.

When local communities and young people work side by side to create positive change, it empowers them. This can only achieved this by connecting with motivated people – supporters, project partners, communities, and volunteers. Everyone gets involved because they believe in young people and communities working together to create lasting change.

Volcán Momotombo NicaraguaIt was prohibitively expensive as a short-term adventure, and joining a charity expedition hasn’t made it any cheaper.

Plus it has added extra complications — like fundraising, and going for a longer period of time.

So why do it at all? Because an adventure is better if you can help change the world in the process.

A Blog is Not a Mirror

dark instagram

Social Media is not a mirror.

Instead of being a mirror, apps like Facebook and Instagram can make feelings of depression and loneliness worse.

These platforms show idealised versions of other people’s lives that we can confuse with reality.

Who is updating their Instagram of pictures that show the days they can’t get out of bed? Sharing pictures from when eat junk, because they can’t be bothered cooking. Uploading when their relationships are troubled.

Is there evidence that the beautiful people who share the most selfies are the most insecure? Or any studies on endless pictures of happy couples being them over compensating? I don’t think there is any conclusive data on these things.

Just the same, it seems like we shouldn’t confuse the edited highlights of lives we see online with our own.

Writing about adventure

The Flat Foot Adventure is a blog about adventure, and very little else. It’s not a mirror to my life.

I have kept journals and blogs online where I talk about what’s going on in the day to day of my life. This is purposefully not one of them. It’s a place to write about adventures. It exists to inspire people to have adventures of their own, and entertain people who prefer their life quieter.

I wasn’t writing about how I lost my job in 2009 before I went to Peru. I didn’t devote a blog post to how I ended up crying in a bar in Cusco because my cat of 18 years had recently passed away. These things were going on in the background.

What I don’t cover here is my struggles with depression and anxiety.

Although they represent part of the blog’s theme of overcoming adversity, I am not comfortable talking about it.

My mental health issues affect my behaviour and as a result affects my relationships in negative ways. I don’t write about the really bad decisions I make.

Or maybe I am just a flawed person making some bad decisions, and in addition also has other issues. And sometimes adventures.

The point is, keep reading this blog for adventures. Go find adventures of your own, of whatever size. But don’t read this blog and think your own life is inferior, because it isn’t. You are doing the best you can.

Adventures Old and New

watching the sunrise in Peru

Way back in 2009, I went on an adventure to Peru. One of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures type things.

A one off adventure, inspired by people who had done or were doing similar things.

Except it wasn’t a one off and it didn’t end there.

A five day hike to the lost city of Machu Picchu in 2009 inspired this blog, the Flat Foot Adventurer.

In 2011, I traded remote mountain paths for the Arctic tundra of Norway. Instead of high mountain paths I was driving a sled and a pack of huskies through the snow and across frozen lakes.

Since then, the adventures continue. I raced on a dragon boat team, moved to Australia, tracked nesting sea turtles on deserted beaches, started a street roller hockey team, and kept looking for more adventures.

Adventures in 2017 and Beyond

thevenard islandIt’s now 2017.

In December, I travel to WA’s Thevenard island to join the flatback turtle monitoring program, counting tracks, tagging turtles, and collecting data.

In September 2019, I plan to embark on my biggest and most challenging adventure yet. I will be joining Raleigh International as a volunteer on an expedition for three months in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Volunteers will be working with rural communities in remote areas of Central America. Protecting one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, projects can involve working on a water and sanitation initiatives to bring clean water to rural communities, or constructing school buildings for indigenous communities.

On the expedition as a volunteer communications officer, I am not getting paid. Due to Raleigh International being a registered charity I need to fundraise for them, and various charity fundraising activities and begging will follow. In addition, there will be some unashamed requests for funds to help me cover the period I will be in a remote Central American jungle instead of at a desk in Perth.

This will make the next year a challenge all of its own.

Adventures in Costa Rica awaitI set up today the Facebook page for The Flat Foot Adventurer.

After eight years of adventures it deserves to have one! Previous adventures had pages, but lost relevance when the adventures were complete.

It makes sense for there to be one page for sharing these adventures to.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

The big relocation

Living in Perth

Perth at sunsetAs adventures go, moving to Australia was a big one.

Packing up your life into boxes, hurling them into the great void (or just getting professional and reliable movers to ship them to the other side of the world), as well as applying for visas, getting various checks and the actual moving.

It was about four years ago that a flat in London’s Docklands was packed into boxes, cleaned and emptied. Three and a half years ago that I arrived in Australia.

It’s fitting, then, that I have relocated again. A really big relocation. A move from one suburb to about 5 minutes down the road.

The thing is, whether you’re relocating from England to Australia, or from North Perth to Joondanna, some things aren’t all that different.

Space to Move

First, you have to find somewhere to live. You can’t move if you don’t have somewhere to move to. That’s like a Newtonian law of physics. Or the universe. Or something.

Living in Perth, post-mining boom, we’re pretty lucky. Unlike Sydney and Melbourne, rent is affordable here and renters are in a better position than owners.

Finding a place to live in London involved a kind of pantomime. You enquire after properties, get told they had been let already, and end up somewhere completely different.

In Perth, things seem a lot easier these days (I missed the mining boom, and understand it was a different story in that period.) You visit the website of letting agents and find places you want to live. You view it, apply for it, get accepted almost right away, and that’s kind of it.

Bodies, Rest and Motion

WA TransitionsI figure if we’re going to start claiming moving house to be some kind of Newtonian deal, I might as well use related subheadings.

A place to live was surprisingly easy to find. Finding a reliable removalist turned out to be just as painless. I used the OneFlare website to get quotes and info from local businesses, and they weren’t unreasonable.

However, comparing reviews online I found a different removalist that prides itself on being different to most. WA Transition Removals describe themselves as “more than just a removalist” — and right away I found they weren’t what you’d expect.

In my correspondence with the owner, John, he made suggestions and told me what to check with other quotes. He didn’t tell me anyone was wrong, or promise to beat any other quote I had. Instead, he offered advice. I quickly knew that this was the right company for my move.

Included in the service wasn’t just removal, or using the right size vehicle for the job, but also full disassembly and reinstallation of furniture and white goods, together with a code of conduct, from focused, smart moving, and respectful employees with a great attitude.

The Day Itself

Living in PerthAs these things go, moving day came up on me all too quickly.

Ryan and Tim from WA Transition Removals arrive as expected at 10am, and by 1pm everything is taken apart, packed, loaded, moved, unloaded, reassembled and reconnected in my new place.

What’s more, they were everything promised. They had a reputation to uphold, and I hadn’t expected to be surprised — of course they would be helpful and hard working, all the rest. But they really went above and beyond.

When I left around 12pm so I could go fetch my cat from the vet’s, and the trip took longer than I expected, I wasn’t worried. I knew that everything was in safe hands, and it’s not often you happily leave two strangers you just met with all your worldly belongings and your new house.

Some little things go that extra mile. Ryan pointed out after they connected the washing machine that one of the taps needed a plumber to come out. It wasn’t his problem if my washing machine worked. Just the same, he didn’t just leave it at he’d moved it and connected it.

Together Tim and Ryan offered advice on furniture if I wasn’t sure where to put it. Then, when they unloaded a large, bulky wardrobe that I confessed I didn’t even want, they cheerfully offered to just take it away. No charge, no fuss, and no drama that they had just unloaded it from the van.

Everything was done with good humour and professionalism, but working quickly and efficiently, and every minute I was so glad I had them helping.

Seriously, if you are moving a 5 minute drive down the road to the next suburb, or if you are moving across the country, these are the people you want helping.

In a New Place

And now here I am. in a new place.

I’m no longer able to guess what time it is from the volume of the traffic outside the window, I am now woken up by strange and unfamiliar noises — people walking past outside, or the sound of the garden reticulation turning on.

The adventure continues…