Once again, sorry it’s been a while. I’m getting down to my last couple weeks here, so I am trying to experience everything I possibly can before I go. Oh yea, and that whole school thing…. ;) BUT I would LOVE to share my story with you guys about the trip I have been waiting for since the day I arrived in Costa Rica.
Two weekends ago, we went on a trip to a small beach called Playa Buena Vista. It was located in the Nicoya Penninsula of Costa Rica where, quite literally, nothing else exists. Let me put this into perspective for you. We drove about 4-5 hours to get to the beach, where the bus dropped us off well in the middle of no where; we then had to take our bags over our heads and walk through a 3 foot deep river to get to the beach on the other side. When we arrived, we saw this shack-like building that was completely open (no windows), a few benches, and bunk beds up on the second level. This place, where we slept, had absolutely no form of electricity, and they received their water from a manual hand pump that the men pumped every couple of days. It was incredible. There we met people who traveled from Germany,Spain, Indonesia and other parts of the world just to work with turtle rescue missions. However, they stay there for months and sometimes up to a year, and I had no idea how I was going to survive being there for two days!
After all the introductions and rules were read, we received the times of our night shifts for turtle watching. My first shift was from 3 am to 6 am. During this time we were going to be walking up and down the beach, looking for turtles that come out of the ocean to lay eggs. If/When we find them, we have to take certain measurements of the turtles, tag them, count & remove their eggs from the sand, and take the eggs to the hatcheries to be reburied. Because of the threat of poachers, they have to be on constant 24 hour surveillance of the beach so the turtle eggs down get stolen or eaten by some other animal, like raccoon.
I was woken up by the team from the previous shift and we began our walking. I was exhausted, it was pitch black, and the only light we were able to use (which we were not able to use unless we actually found something) was red. So I was basically walking down a pitch black beach, not being able to see a thing, at 3 am. I don’t know how our guide found what he did, but he somehow saw the tracks the turtles leave as they walk in and out of the ocean, and we found a nest! The turtle was just finishing up laying her eggs, so we had to wait until she returned to the ocean. After she carefully camouflaged her trail, I put a glove on, started digging up her nest, and counted from 1 all the way to 104. I can’t imagine how the turtles swim around with so many eggs! Those things weighed a ton! After we finished digging them all up, we carried the bag back to the hatchery, dug another hole, and replanted the eggs in safety.
After we finished, we joined with the rest of our surveillance group again to continue our watch, and we found another turtle! She was just walking out of the ocean, so we had to keep her distance. But we noticed something was wrong with the way the turtle was walking. Our guide told us this particular turtle had been trying to lay her eggs for the past three days, but wasn’t successful because one of her back fins had been cut/eaten off by something. So she arrived to try again, and this time, with the help of us digging her hole, she began the birthing process. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. As soon as she started laying eggs, the turtles go into a sort of trance to where they do not notice much going on around them. This is when we started taking measurements and removing the eggs while she was laying them. When she was done, we helped her cover up her hole again, and she returned to the ocean. :)
From the end of this awesome experience, we watched the sunrise. We found this Lora turtle at about 4:30 am and she didn’t finish until about 6 am, so we had to go straight into the “work” part of our volunteer weekend. This was NO JOKE. Every day the volunteers wake up, dig new hatchery holes, and fill them with fresh sand from the beach. So I dug a hole, 4 feet deep – 3 feet in diameter, took all the sand from the holes we were digging, put them in an “old sand” pile, walked to the ocean front, filled a bag with fresh sand, and filled the holes back up. For three hours in the pouring rain and then blistering heat, we worked. Let’s just say, the majority of my group is not cut out for manual labor. It was.. terrible. But I am not one to complain, so I sucked it up and put in my couple hours of hard work until we ate breakfast.
During our free time we were able to sleep, read, go to the beach, play games; do what ever we wanted to. Throughout the day we had 2 hour shifts to where we would have to walk up and down the hatcheries to see if there were any crabs trying to get into the cages, or if any turtles were hatching, every 15 minutes (even though they all knew turtles usually don’t hatch until the sun goes down). The second night we had a 3 hour hatchery shift, but I was slightly disappointed because their hadn’t been any turtles hatching at Buena Vista for the past three nights. BOY WAS I UNPREPARED FOR WHAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN.
At 10:30 we started our shift, walking up and down the hatcheries with a little red flash light, up and down the isles. Nothing. 10:45. Nothing. 11 pm, nothing. 11:15….. Wait, what’s that?? There was a small hole forming in one of the hatcheries. I asked the guy who was working with us what it was, and knowing I wasn’t expecting anything cool to happen, he just smiled and said “we’ll come back in ten minutes.” I was definitely in a “alright whatever weirdo” kind of mood because I was so tired. When we came back ten minutes later, that cage was SWARMING with tens and tens of baby turtles!!! I have never been so excited in my entire life. We then spent the next twenty or so minutes taking the turtles out, counting, and weighing some. When we started walking out of the hatchery, we noticed two more holes forming in two different cages. This was when panic mode started to set in: We. Needed. Help.
We took this first batch of turtles to the beach and released them. It was such an awesome sight to see; watching the waves take them all away, some walking around in circles because they didn’t know where they were going. TOO CUTE! After were made sure they all made it into the water safely, we ran back to start the process over again. Remember, we’re on a pitch-black beach, in the middle of the night, every one is sleeping, and we are not allowed to use a lot of light or make a lot of noise because other people have to work crazy hour-ed shifts too. Thankfully, one of the other girls woke up, and we split into two different groups taking care of the rest of the babies. Only about half of the nests hatch at one time though, so the next morning a few late-bloomers arrived, and we were able to actually see the turtles enter the ocean and swim away.
Although the trip was difficult, exhausting because I was up almost 48 hours straight, and stressful because there was literally NOTHING there, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I got to watch life be born right in front of my eyes, and it was absolutely incredible.
If you guys have any questions, or want to know anything else– leave a comment! I’ll get back to you ASAP :)
Pura Vida <3