I was given an Earthwatch Institute Teach Earth Fellowship to go to Costa Rica and participate in Earthwatch’s long-term Costa Rican Sea Turtles Project. We patrolled the beach at night at the the Parque National Marino las Baulas de Guanacaste looking for sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. When we found one we counted the eggs, read her flipper tag or gave her a tag if she didn’t have one, and sometimes even moved the nest if it was laid in a hopeless location. We also ran a sea turtle hatchery.
Sea turtles are in trouble due to egg poachers, human impacts on the beach like spotlights and dogs, commercial fishing, plastic debris, a warming climate, etc. They have been around since the Jurassic Period, but now they need all the help they can get.
There were three species of sea turtle on our beach: Leatherbacks, Olive Ridleys, and Black Sea Turtles. The leatherbacks were the size of small boats and definitely prehistoric-looking, but my favorites were the Olive Ridleys. Once they were done laying they would do this funny dance to stamp the sand down, stomping alternately with the left rear flipper and the right while doing this little shimmy. Plus, they have high smoothed dome-shaped shells that have nice proportions. Plus, I was the first person to spot one of them late one night.
Back home my students and I are getting involved in the Marin Municipal Water District’s Turtle Observers Program.