Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 5th 2016 Contents YVONNE BABOOLAL
Kyle Mitchell was eight when his cousin, Christo-
pher, took him to see his first leatherback turtle on
Matura beach, a few miles from his home. It was
love at first sight.
Thus began Mitchell s enduring love affair with
leatherbacks. "To see such a huge creature so docile,
so helpless, you have no choice but to feel sorry for
it. I love them. A lot," he said.
Mitchell is 23 now but the sense of wonder of how
a female baby turtle leaves the nesting site at Matura
beach, fumblingly races to the ocean, grows up, travels
thousands of miles around the world and then returns
to the exact place of her birth has never left him.
"Her walk from the nesting spot to the ocean is
critical in this. By walking, she calibrates the spot
and this is how she knows where to come back. It s
called natal homing. It s a wonder of creation. Nobody
teaches them what to do. There has to be something
bigger directing that to happen," Mitchell said.
He added: "If you lift up a baby turtle from the
nest and take her to the sea, she will be confused
about where to go and lay her eggs."
Only female turtles return to nesting sites at Matura
and elsewhere. The leatherback nesting season in
Trinidad has just started.
Mitchell said he has even seen some "weird stuff"
with leatherbacks he cannot explain. "I saw turtles
come to the beach, go through the entire nesting
process but not drop a single egg. I have no idea
He is a film student at the University of the West
Indies but his entire life continues to revolve around
the protection of the leatherbacks. "This is my main
He is one of two siblings who grew up in an extend-
ed family on the Toco Main Road, Matura, and
described himself as a loner.
When he is not at the university he spends all his
time patrolling the beach making sure no one is inter-
fering with the turtles, tagging them and taking
groups of people on tours. His day sometimes ends
Mitchell is an official turtle tagger, patroller and
tour guide with Nature Seekers, the leatherback con-
servation group of Matura, its board s vice-chairman
and a system administrator at the office.
During the turtles off season, he works part time
in the office planning for the next season when his
leatherback friends will come back home.
Mitchell was literally born into the leatherback life.
"My mom, Sharon Bobb, was a board member of
Nature Seekers. She also sold pies, snacks and drinks
to visitors on the beach.
"I accompanied her almost every night and loved
it when she sent me on the beach to drop off things
for the workers. I got to see the turtles." Mitchell was
allowed to do his own first tour at age 14.
Being born in Matura and getting involved with
Nature Seekers have opened doors for Mitchell. His
short environmental videos for the Canadian Sea
Turtle Network (CSTN) are known internationally.
Mitchell is the main contact person for a French
production team and CSTN who are now in T&T
doing satellite deployment work with the leatherbacks
which involves long-term monitoring of their move-
ments around the world.
He won two government awards in 2012 for best
environmental project and youth of the year.
Mitchell said a worrying leatherback trend was
developing. The nesting female turtle population in
Trinidad is showing signs of decreasing and this may
be related to the problem of "sea turtle by catch".
"Turtles are air breathers and need to come up
every 15 minutes to breathe. Research done by the
Institute of Marine Affairs and the Wider Caribbean
Sea Turtle Conservation Network shows around
3,000 nesting females are caught in east coast fish-
ermen s nets every year, with 1,000 of them being
killed in the process.
"I interviewed fishermen and they said the time
the turtles are coming in to nest coincides with their
prime fishing season," he said.
Mitchell is working, at present, on a film about
this to show what the leatherbacks go through.
His future plans include finishing his degree and
doing documentaries, most likely on turtles at first.
As for his work with leatherbacks in his village,
he said: "I am definitely here for the long haul."
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, May 5, 2016
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for MAY 04TH, 2016
Kyle Mitchell tags a leatherback at Matura beach.
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