Being an Eco-Volunteer for the Sea Turtle Conservancy is definitely an adventure! To get to Tortuguero, I first took a bus ride through the mountains and then to the coast. From there I boarded a small boat to take me through the canals. It was here that I first started to experience the wonderful wildlife that can be found in Costa Rica. From monkeys, to iguana’s, countless native birds, and butterflies there is always something to see.
Once I arrived at the station, I learned how to measure and record data for when a turtle is nesting. Right away I was included in the night patrols and various activities that take place during a usual week at the station. During the week I got to know the research assistants better and learned about the countries that they are from.
The night patrols are not always successful in terms of seeing turtles but there is always something interesting to see, from the brilliant night sky to small crabs that glow in the dark. Since nature, and turtles, are not always predictable, I recommend staying for two weeks. That way there are more opportunities to see a turtle.
Seeing a turtle was definitely the highlight of my trip! I was able to count the eggs and help check her flippers and shell for any damage. Being so close to these amazing animals is truly a life changing experience. Working with the turtle up close gave me a new appreciation for these creatures, while also motivating me even more to help conserve them.
Staying two weeks also gives you time to become a part of the weekly schedule and see even more wildlife. There is always something to do in or around the station: going in to Tortuguero for shopping or food, bird watching, relaxing on the beach, taking a canal tour or even just reading a book. Costa Rica is truly a beautiful country, from the plants, to the animals, and even the gorgeous sunsets.
Being an Eco-Volunteer in Tortuguero is definitely a once in a life time experience. If you have the chance, you should definitely go!
By Rachel Bladow
Today’s blog post about working with sea turtles in Costa Rica is by Brian Drozd, a program officer at the U.S. Department of State. He has over 6 years of experience working for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked on grants and communications in the Climate Change Division. His Master’s degree in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development enabled him to focus on sustainable tourism and conservation.
In the summer of 2009 I spent 10 weeks working with sea turtles on the rugged coast of Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Working as a research assistant for the Sea Turtle Conservancy, I spent my time walking up and down a 5 mile stretch of beach in the middle of the night looking for green sea turtles to measure, tag, and count the number of eggs they laid. I did this only for meals and a roof over my head. Why would someone do this? Sea turtles have swum in the world’s oceans for 100 million years, and they are in danger of extinction. Threats from poaching, commercial fishing, and climate change, among others, are threatening these animals all over the world. Many people say healthy sea turtles mean healthy oceans.
There are many different species of sea turtles, but I primarily worked with green sea turtles. Some facts about these amazing animals:
The goal of my time in Tortuguero was to help the Sea Turtle Conservancy collect data to monitor the health and numbers of the sea turtle population. We also worked closely with the local people to educate them about sea turtles and help them conduct their eco-tourism business with the turtles in a safe manner.
One of the most amazing experiences as a research assistant was when we put a satellite transmitter onto a green turtle. Using a transmitter to monitor turtles we are able to learn about their feeding patterns, how long they stay under water, and much more. It is just this kind of valuable information that is helping scientists learn how to better help protect these animals.
Sea Turtles nest all over the world. Large nesting populations are found in many countries in Latin America and Africa, as well as in India, Indonesia, and China. All sea turtles are in need of protection, monitoring, and research in order to make sure they survive for future generations. There are many actions you can take to help sea turtles near your home and around the world. Some of them are: reducing pollution, not eating sea turtle meat or eggs, and protecting coastlines by slowing development and reducing light on nesting beaches. View more tips here and research just a few of the many organizations working to save turtles around the world. I had an incredible time working with sea turtles, and I’m sure you would too!
This blog was originally posted on the Global Conversations: Climate Blog )
Each nesting season, STC invites students and recent college graduates to assist with research at Tortuguero in Costa Rica. During this year’s leatherback nesting season, research assistant Maddie will be sharing her experience with STC’s members and supporters.
“¡Hola! Mi nombre es Madeleine Beange. I grew up in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. In 2009, I completed a B.S in neurobiology at McGill University. After a year of neuroscience research I got sick of killing mice.
I left my lab job to backpack Southeast Asia for a couple months. After a taste of wandering the world, I realized I needed more. Pursuing my dreams of working with sea turtles, I worked for 9 months and saved up enough money to fly to Costa Rica.
My fist experience with sea turtle conservation research was with PRETOMA, a Costa Rican NGO. From October to December 2011, I worked as a coordinator/research assistant for 3 months.
Next up is a 3 month research assistant position with Sea Turtle Conservancy. I will still be working in Costa Rica, but this time on the Caribbean side in Tortuguero.”
To read about Maddie’s adventures as a Sea Turtle Conservancy research assistant, click here for her blog, Mad About Sea Turtles.
More so than many other tropical locations throughout the world, Costa Rica is an important location for sea turtle nesting. But the five species that call the country’s two coasts home are being severely threatened by a number of dangers, pushing these creatures towards the point of extinction. We should all be aware of these threats and what we can do to help out so that we may preserve these species for centuries to come.
Introducing Costa Rica’s Sea Turtles
Costa Rica is amongst the world’s premier destinations to view nesting sea turtles. The species that are found in Costa Rica include the Hawksbill, Green, Black (a Pacific subpecies of green turtles), Olive Ridley, Loggerhead and the massive Leatherback sea turtle. Sea turtles are important to the health of the world’s oceans, and unfortunately six of the seven turtle species in the world are on the threatened or endangered list.
National parks have been put in place to help protect the most important nesting areas. Tortuguero National Park for instance is a breeding ground of four species of sea turtle. Two other turtle-inspired spots are located in the Guanacaste province. Ostional National Wildlife Refuge is located near the town of Nosara and is one of the world’s key breeding grounds of the olive ridley sea turtle. Las Baulas (Leatherback) National Park is near the picturesque beach of Playa Grande, which is a large Leatherback beach.
All of these species found in Costa Rica are either on the endangered or threatened list and all a number of dangers, including commercial fishing, egg poaching and both light and garbage pollution.
-Commercial fishing: Turtles are threatened by both long line and commercial fishing nets. Sea turtles like all reptiles breathe air. It is very common for a turtles to become entangled in nets or hooked in lines leading them to drown.
– Poaching: The fact is the local population enjoys the taste of sea turtle meat and uses turtle eggs as a supposed aphrodisiac. This leads to the hunting and harvesting of sea turtles and their eggs throughout. Restrictions have been put in place by the government and have helped reduced poaching, but these regulations are difficult to enforce.
– Light Pollution: Development of communities and commercial properties along nesting beaches has created light pollution that confuses and disorients the turtles and their hatchlings. Uneducated visitors are also a problem, as many go to the beaches looking for nesting turtles but are unaware that normal flashlights cause the same light problems as the developments. Red LED lights are the most eco-friendly way to view turtle nesting at night. The red light’s wavelength does not affect the turtles as much, allowing for successful nesting. It is always good policy to view nesting turtles with certified guides to ensure their safety.
– Garbage: There are many problems that result from humans polluting, but one of the direct threats to the leatherback species and other species is the presence of plastic bags. Plastic bags are easily mistaken for jelly fish, a staple in the leatherback diet. Plastic bag consumption leads to blockages the throat and digestive systems causing starvation and even death. Cigarette butts and oil droplets are also among the many hazardous items that do not belong in Earth’s oceans.
What you can do to help
Learning about sea turtles and not littering are some of the easiest thing you can do to help save not just Costa Rica’s sea turtles but the world’s oceans. If you have some free time and a big heart, you can also volunteer at one of many non-profits programs set in place to help sea turtle conservation. If we all help a little it will make a great difference.
Guest blog post written by Matt Ymbras for TV Pura Vida
To volunteer working with sea turtles in Costa Rica, visit www.conserveturtles.org to learn about our Eco-Volunteer Adventures.
At the end of September 2010, STC initiated the construction of a Education Kiosk in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. The building is constructed with concrete floor, a wooden frame and a traditional thatched roof made with the leaves of a local palm species known as the royal palm tree, Manicaria saccifera.
The goal this new facility is to offer a better learning experience for tourists and the Tortuguero Community. The Education Kiosk will feature an informative video, information panel displays and serve as a meeting facility for the local community.
STC was able to build this facility thanks to support from Tourism Cares and three French volunteers who dedicated a month of sweat and expertise.
— Update from the staff in Tortuguero, Costa Rica
From left to right: Ivan (STC staff), Alain, Jose (STC staff), Rene and Robert