Adventures with sea turtles

This weekend, the Horizontes team went to Cabuyal beach to volunteer with The Leatherback Trust, an organization that monitors and protects sea turtle populations. The Trust carries out most of its research on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, where many turtles – including the endangered leatherback – have important nesting sites.

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Cabuyal beach

 Scientists and Volunteers at TLT have several main objectives: tagging adult sea turtles to monitor population dynamics, hiding nests from poachers (who are incredibly active, taking up to 90% of eggs at some sites), and ensuring hatchlings travel safely from shore to the sea. Volunteers also monitor the location, depth and temperature profiles of successful turtle nests, to ensure that beaches maintain suitable habitat for future mothers.

On Friday we participated in a beach patrol, which typically run from 9 pm to 3 or 4 am (although some are much longer.) Unfortunately I have no photos to share, since any form of artificial light – even a camera’s LCD screen – is completely prohibited on the nesting beach. We got to see a black sea turtle (a Pacific morph of the green turtle) lay her eggs! It is amazing to watch these huge and prehistoric animals struggle awkwardly along the sand, then glide smoothly towards the horizon once they finally reach water. It was also a privilege just to be on a completely light-free beach at night: the stars and bioluminescence in the water were equally bright and equally beautiful.

Back at camp, conditions are pretty primitive. There is no electricity or refrigeration, so volunteers are running on little fresh food and even less sleep for periods of months:

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The turtle camp. Cooking and clean-up duties are assigned based on the outcomes of domino and card games. An unlucky hand meant I made the gallo pinto and washed up afterward!

In the morning, we helped excavate an old nest to quantify the number of turtles that hatched successfully:

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All in all, this organization does incredible work. Be sure to check out the link above! And to make up for the absence of sea turtle photos, here are some other egg-laying animals:

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White-fronted parrot

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Double-striped thick knee and her eggs. These birds make pitiful nests!

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