Costa Rica: Turtles on the beach, nests saved

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

Our 2018 Costa Rica team arrived at Pacuare research station on Monday lunchtime. We were immediately thrown into the training so that we could start patrolling that very night to get to nest before the poachers.  If we encounter a turtle, we take her eggs as well as measure and tag her. The eggs are then taken to a secure hatchery. At the hatchery the person on duty digs a new nest for the eggs that are then guarded 24/7, keeping the developing turtles safe.

Although walking along the beach in the dark and in tropical humidity is not an easy task, our first night yielded leatherback turtles straight away. “It was really impressive to see how big they are”, says expeditioner Gary. The larger of the two turtles measured 153 cm across its carapace (shell).

On Tuesday we completed our training with hatchery duties. This includes how to dig a  turtle nest so that we can rebury the eggs correctly while on hatchery duty. It was a sandy affair as the nests are generally 75 cm deep and it is very hard to reach that deep into the sand. We were all covered head to toe in sand after and enjoyed a dip in the balmy sea. As part of our training we also learnt how to deal with any hatchlings that emerge during our shift and how to safely see them to sea.

The Tuesday late patrol, leaving the research station at midnight, encountered a turtle only 40 minutes out from the station. We watched her make her way out of the sea and dig a body pit in the sand before finally starting to dig her nest hole. At this point we joined her and got ready to insert the bag into her nest hole, “stealing” all her eggs. We also measured the length and width of her carapace and checked her tags. She was 147 cm long and she had a broken finger in her back flipper, perhaps from digging her nests. Our data later showed that this is the third time this same turtle has come ashore to lay eggs on Pacuare beach.

Once we had all the measurements and the eggs, we transported them back to the hatchery were Eva and Stefanie were on duty. They were elated to get to put their new learnt skills into practice and to dig their first hatchery nest. “There were 75 viable eggs and 40 yolkless eggs”, explained Eva after she and Stefanie had finished building the nest and transferred all the eggs.

The first nest in the hatchery is due to hatch any day now, so hopes are high and everyone is waiting in anticipation for the hatchlings to emerge.


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