Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/costarica)

Our second expedition team have arrived, been trained in patrol and hatchery methodology, with Janet digging the “perfect leatherback nest.” In the hope of washing off the post nest-digging sand, most of us dived straight into the ocean. The ocean had other ideas, however, and tumbled us around in the surf, spitting us out with more sand in our clothes than before we had entered!

The first night proved a fruitful patrol for Magali’s team – as they encountered a smallish (141 cm carapace length), young turtle, bearing no tags. She took a very long time to drop her first eggs and then only laid 59, which is quite a small clutch for a leatherback. Holly from the UK who was given the task of collecting the eggs, said afterwards, “Being a new mum myself, I could relate to her not really knowing what she’s doing!”

Sunday night, the new moon, which had so delighted us with its light, enabling us to finally see where we were going, suddenly became obscured by dark, black clouds, which duly opened upon us. Then a nesting turtle suddenly appeared for Catherine, Carol, Terry and Janet, and it was action stations! The turtle was already laying and we peeped into the nest to see a clutch of glistening eggs. Oscar, our guide, quickly tried to excavate as many eggs as possible, but she was nearing the end, so he deftly inserted one end of a long measuring tape into the nest and waited until she had finished covering up and moving off, before unearthing the eggs – there’s no way a human can compete with the power of a leatherback’s flippers, so this was the best option. After rescuing Terry’s glasses from a near burial, we took the data and brought the eggs to the hatchery, which fortunately for us, was only two minutes away.

Other patrols witnessed two poaching events, and it seems that our thief (from last week) is still at large, as whilst taking a pee in the bushes, one of the poacher’s own egg bags was swiped! “Now that’s Karma!”, said Ida.

On Monday loud knocks woke us up at 21:30. There were initial grumbles at being woken up during our pre-midnight patrol nap. But as the word “hatchlings” were uttered we all got out of bed, bushy-tailed and bright-eyed. There was a clutch of twenty-five baby leatherback turtles ready to head for the ocean. We all observed them being measured and weighed before finally making their last mad dash for the sea. During the night a few more emerged and by the morning Theresa, who was on early morning hatchery shift, released the last lost little wanderer on to the beach.

Tuesday afternoon Magali excavated the nest and another nine turtles were dug out from the bottom of the nest. Everyone released a turtle, cheering them on as they crossed the beach. Dustin was up for hatchery duty next and just as we were all about to leave, he noted a few little heads starting to poke out of one of the nests. “I had just started my shift,” exclaimed Dustin. A couple of hours later as Theresa and Janet were about to take over hatchery duty, fifty-nine hatchlings had emerged and they measureed, weighed, and then finally released the little ones. What a night!

Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

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