The Turtle Club
Turtles, turtles, turtles, may have been the best part of this whole trip. We volunteered for a weekend with the Asociación de Voluntarios para el Servicio en Áreas Protegidas de Costa Rica (ASVO) at Playa Matapalo. We traveled about 40 min away from Manuel Antonio to a small pueblo where one of the sea turtles conservation projects is located. That beach was not only the most beautiful beach I visited, but is also relatively unknown to tourists, so it was empty with only the locals around to appreciate its beauty. The beach is not a national park, so there are several poachers around at night looking to make some easy money. This is also why there are no naturally born hatchlings there now, either the organization removes the eggs from the nest as the mother turtle lays them, then taking them to the hatchery to be safe there, or the poachers get to the nest and empty it’s contents. So our first night there entailed patrolling the open beach in shifts as soon as it got dark, until the first rays of sunrise. It was quite an adrenaline rush, passing poachers (hueveros) on the beach, both of us with the same drive and purpose of finding turtles coming onto shore to lay their eggs. As we walked down the beach with only moonlight and our red-light flashlights (red-light is less detectable to turtles) to guide us, I could not help but give the hueveros my best fierce glare as they passed by. It seemed so weird to be fighting a war over nature, when it is not even ours to own or claim. It was even weirder during the day, walking past locals knowing that they may have been the poachers on the beach the night before. Except that during the day, the fight is put on pause, and everyone is a normal person. No one looks like a criminal, just another human trying to survive. The next night we had shifts at the hatchery, which had rows and rows of turtle nests buried in the sand. Since they hatch at night, we were able to witness over 100 baby turtles hatching from one nest. We then took those babies out to the beach, so they could make their way to the ocean. They weren’t helped to the water because when they are mature enough to lay eggs, they will remember that trek, and return to the same beach where they were born. The next morning we exhumed the turtle nest where they had hatched, and found some live baby turtles that had not been able to sift through the sand by themselves. We took them out to sea as well, to preserve their lives too. After that, the day consisted of naps in hammocks and hanging out at the beach.
For me, this experience was also a way to give back a little to the Costa Rican community and ecosystem, since I did not do any other volunteer work throughout the semester. This experience was also better than just seeing turtles being released, because we were able to be a part of their lives, from saving the eggs from poachers, to watching over them as they began to hatch, to finally sending them off into the sea.