¡Salvando las tortugas!
A few weeks ago, a group of 9 of us IFSA students and IFSA director Tracy embarked on a volunteer opportunity of a lifetime! We dedicated our weekend, sense of personal hygiene, and sleep time to help rescue the leatherback turtles and their eggs! Located in the Limón providence, we all woke up early at met at UNA to catch buses, taxis, and boats to reach our final destination. The ride from San José to Limón was about 4 hours. After that, we all got into 3 separate taxis and drove to the boating dock. Once we got to the dock, we had to wait for the boats to “warm up” (a little concerning, but we survived!). While we were sitting there, all of the sudden we heard this HORRIFYING NOISE. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REPoVfN-Ij4 (This youtube video from National Geographic can help you understand what I mean by HORRIFYING especially when you’ve never heard it before). Anyway, we watched the howler monkeys swing from branch to branch and eventually boarded the boat to take us to the reserve we’d be working at. Along the river we saw little turtles (which we joked in saying thats all we needed to see and could turn around now!), baby crocs, herons, and even a little dog going for a swim along the river!
Just keep swimming…
We eventually reached our reserve.
Inside were rows of bunk beds. There is no electricity so flash lights were a must!
After checking out where we’d be staying for the next 2 days, we headed over to the kitchen for lunch and to meet the other volunteers. There were people there from all over the world, many who are working there for months on end! After this weekend, I have so much respect for people who can do that because it was HARD WORK! Angel, the cutest little Costa Rican woman in the world, cooked us lunch, and the rest of our meals for our time there. After we ate, we explored the beach and hammock area, took cat naps in the hammocks, and prepared ourselves for the evening’s adventures.
We got a crash course on what we’d be working with later that night. The volunteers made a sand-replica of a leatherback turtle so we can see the size and the depth of the hole they bury. It was all cool to see, but I was ready to see the real thing!
I almost fell into the turtle hole it was so deep!
The group was split up into 2 shifts. 4 IFSA people, 2 other volunteers, and a guide were in one group, then 5 IFSA people, 2 other volunteers, and a guide were in the other. The first group had “patrol” from 8pm-12am and the other group had it from 12am-4am. During patrol, we took a little row boat across the river to another beach. Once there all we did was walk up and down a certain stretch of beach with our eyes peeled for turtles! Both groups were unsuccessful the first night and returned back to the house hot, sweaty, and sandy.
The next day was a lot of fun! We ended up having a lot of free time which was great because after patrolling for turtles until 4am, we were exhausted! We ate breakfast, hung out in the hammocks, played with the cutest puppies I’ve ever seen and ate lunch. After lunch we had a little more free time but later that afternoon we all boarded the little row boat to the beach we patrol and helped pick up trash. It was so polluted and disgusting! We found endless amounts of shoes, bottles, dirty diapers, EVERYTHING! After 2 hours of that, we enjoyed some watermelon, and went back to the reserve.
So much garbage!
1 of 6 adorable puppies!!
Later that afternoon the schedule said, “Crazy games on the beach” curious and slightly concerned as to what these “crazy games” entailed we all waited for our instructions. What ended up happening was a group starting playing soccer, another group played Manzanas con manzanas (the Spanish version of Apples to Apples) so these “crazy games” never really got too crazy! My friend Cole did end up spraining his ankle pretty bad which was kind of a problem for that nights patrol.
After our crazy games, we got ready for dinner and for another night of patrol. This time it was my turn for the earlier shift. We got to the beach and started walking and immediately noticed a problem. Poachers were EVERYWHERE! Poachers steal the turtle eggs either to sell them or eat them. It’s an illegal activity and little has been done to stop it. As volunteers and conservationists there’s little we can do other than hope we get to the turtle before the poacher does. There’s an understanding between the 2 groups that whoever gets there first, gets to do whatever they want with the turtle. For us, it was helping protect the eggs. For the poachers, it could be stealing the eggs, or killing the turtle for it’s shell. It’s an awful thing and we witnessed first hand how harmful it is. We passed group after group of poachers. We even saw turtle tracks and a dug up turtle nest, completely eggless. It was starting to get really depressing and by the time midnight rolled around we went back to the boat feeling completely defeated. Walking back to the reserve we were all quiet and sad when all of the sudden our guide Chino saw a flashing red light coming from the beach that we’ve been hanging out at! We quickly walked over to the signal and saw the biggest creature I’ve ever seen. A leatherback turtle had just made it’s way up from the ocean and was laying it’s eggs! It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen! We touched it and helped rebury it’s eggs so poachers can’t find it and watched it slowly make its way back to the ocean. It was quite a sight and I hope I never forget it!
The next day we had a lesson on how to make coconut oil, the threats against sea turtles, and how to protect them. One thing I learned that we can do in our regular lives to save these magnificent turtles is to stop buying fish from overseas. They don’t have the turtle regulations that US boats do so they can be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of turtles. Also, when buying tuna make sure it has a turtle sticker on it, not just the dolphin sticker. This means that the fishing boat has taken the proper precautions to protect the turtles. 1 in 1000 turtles will survive to reproduce. This scary statistic is proof that maybe by the time our children are our age, sea turtles will be exinct. It’s up to us to educate the people about protecting turtles so our children can see these magnificent creatures!
Making the coconut oil!
This trip was definitely something I’ll never forget! I’m so happy I had the opportunity to take part in something so beautiful. I recommend this trip to everyone who has the opportunity!
Everyone! Including IFSA directos Tracy and Sarah, Luis y Chino (2 guides), 9 IFSA student volunteers, and of course a puppy!