Beyond the whir of the small outboard motor which hummed the boat’s occupants slowly and rhythmically across the portion of the Ambracian Gulf locally referred to as Pelican’s Bay, were the piercing cries of the flock of gulls whose cradles were being robbed.
Taking our eyes from the water where we scanned in search of Loggerheads, my fellow sea turtle conservationists and I glanced up to see that the morning sky was speckled with a stirring of bird silhouettes, frantically fluttering above a nesting site reachable by a series of connected islands and sandbars.
Below, four emaciated stray dogs nosed their way from nest to nest, where an open buffet of eggs and hatchlings lay spread out before them. Fighting against current, seaweed, and time, we paddled and trudged our way to the nesting grounds to survey the situation.
The substrate was comprised entirely of empty shells of former sea creatures, the shorebirds’ nutrient source. Upon focusing eye sight, the shapes of speckled eggs began appearing among the debris, not in nests, but strewn about in chaotic fashion following the dogs’ interference.
After additional careful steps, small tufts of new downy feathers appeared, signifying the survival of a few hatchlings.
At this point, the dogs were at the farthest end away from us, successfully capturing a second adult bird for their main entree.
Having discovered the island was imperative to the dogs’ health and survival, and they were rewarded handsomely for their travels. However, the mouths of four hungry dogs mathematically correlates to the total demise of a new generation of a species of birds that had carefully selected a nesting ground virtually free of predators. For any chance of the remaining eggs and hatchlings to survive, the dogs could not be allowed to continue their meal.
This small island is the last in a line of islands where the vulnerable Dalmatian Pelicans also nest. It is unclear if and how much damage the dogs may have caused in the pelican nesting grounds along the way. And regardless of our presence for the protection of the birds on this morning, knowing that a food source is available will surely have the dogs returning to the islands for subsequent meals.
Luckily, the presence of the Dalmatian Pelicans, Loggerhead Sea Turtles, and other rare and threatened species has resulted in the foundation of a branch of the environmental management organization for the Ambracian Gulf. The organization was notified immediately of the dogs’ interaction with the nesting grounds so that steps may be taken to both protect the gulls and pelicans and meet the needs of the stray dogs.
The needs and balances required by nature are keeping us on our toes daily, but it is a rewarding and unparalleled experience. In place of traditional travel, I highly recommend ecotourism! The hatchlings need you.