Counting the turtle tracks is the easy part. The difficult part is the work needed to be done on the beach to ensure the count is accurate. Although tracks soften quickly as the wind blows the sand around, you need to get an accurate count each day (or maybe each week depending on the frequency of turtle nesting events) so you have to wipe the slate clean before you start the counting again. So the same day that the count is complete, the Conservation Team and any willing volunteers head out to rake the beach. The first time I got roped into doing this I had not intended to be involved. I had gone for a late afternoon walk up to Fort Bedford, but I spotted a sizeable team of rakers out on Long Beach. I watched them for a while trawl perpendicular to the sea, up and down, up and down, and started to feel guilty, so I dropped straight down through the thorn trees and went across to greet them. They were only half way along and some were tiring so were pleased to see some fresh legs.
The aim was not to smooth the beach down like the machines which manicure the front of every resort hotel in the Caribbean or Med. By raking roughly across the whole beach you are breaking the existing turtle tracks up. By the archaeological principle of superposition, if you see a turtle track over the rake marks, you know there has been a turtle there since you raked. By this method you can distinguish the old from the new and increase the accuracy of your count.
But even so, it is back breaking work, and blister making too. I helped out on Pan Am Beach one morning. I was keen to go as for all the years of travel there, I had never made it down on to this beach. It was a popular weekend spot, partly as it was just below the American base, and the name Pan Am stemmed partly from it being at the end of the runway. I went with Natasha and Jolene. Natasha was one of the few staff at Conservation that had worked alongside me since I first visited Ascension Island; if you wanted to know where anything was or how to do something, she was probably storing it at the back of her mind somewhere. When others were not strict at recording data in the databases she would be there to get them sorted. Jolene had been around Conservation for several years too but my trips always had coincided with when she was at school or on holiday.
We dropped down the cliff edge on a rough cinder track and parked up at the beach hut at the far end. For this trip we did the counting first, then worked on the raking. As Pan Am was not so intensively used we got away with a simpler method, raking the front of the beach only, and then messing up (I mean marking) the new nests by raking across the tracks made by the female as it left. It saved a bit of time but it was still a long morning of work.