One Turtle At A Time

July 22, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

So many people have opinions about this 'n' that, but most people will never do anything about them. A few will throw a check in the mail or a few pennies in a pot around the holidays, but even less will actually give of themselves to the causes they feel so strongly about. Two years ago, I woke up. I decided that I was going to DO something literal to save the planet instead of Liking, Sharing, and Commenting on Facebook posts.

When I first started college, I was a Marine Biology major with a minor in Animal Behavior. I spent three years in school wanting to study ocean life. I had taken an interest in Microbiology, and I had taken several courses to get me on my way to working with the government studying the oceans. I had a particular interest in Red Tides. I was chugging along at a fairly good clip through my studies. I even got my SCUBA certification. Then, as it has a nasty habit of doing...life happened. And it kept happening. One turn after another took me further and further away from galloping the globe poking at aquatic microbes. Eventually, I got married, had my daughter, and graduated with an Associates in Applied Business in Paralegal and became the owner of a small music business, Vaughan's Rockshop Ltd.

After 10 years, life happened again. I was now divorced and living in the Sonoran Desert. Don't ask how a Marine Biologist at heart ends up in the desert, but it was here that I ended up back on a beach where I originally wanted to be. A few years prior, I had friended a few eco-pirates who had served with Sea Shepherd. In the winter of 2014, one of such "infamous" friends, Pete Bethune, posted an ad on his timeline that Earthrace had an opportunity to send volunteers to Costa Rica to work with Pretoma saving sea turtles. Now having the freedom to set out on such adventures, I sent him a private message immediately, and ever since I've been spending a few weeks a year on the beaches of Costa Rica saving sea turtles. An old friend who knew me "back in the day" when my vanity plates said "Fish Doc" once said, "Well, it looks like you're back where you started." I took a 10 year detour, but here I am, saving the world one turtle at a time.

Unlike many coastal tourist areas where turtles may nest, Caletas Beach is a secluded beach that is part of the Caletas-Ario National Wildlife Refuge. Each work site has a biologist and two research assistants on staff. Volunteers come from all over the world through conservation organizations. We work nights patrolling beaches for nesting turtles. Nesting turtles are tagged and their statistics recorded. The tag information is then shared with other turtle biologists around the world. Recovered turtle eggs are brought back to the hatchery we have built for them, which protects them from poacher and depredation. Volunteers watch over the eggs until they hatch, then they are released back into the ocean after a bit more information is collected on the hatchlings.

In the morning, the nests that hatched during the night are exhumed. Scientists compare notes on data that was recorded when the eggs were placed in the hatchery. The eggs are counted going in, and the hatchlings are counted as they are coming out. It is not uncommon for the numbers to not match. Hatched nests are exhumed, and unhatched eggs are recovered. The eggs are then opened by the scientists, and the various stages of development in are recorded. Last year, we learned through experiment, that nests dug in shaded areas have a higher success rate than eggs buried in sun. Not only do more eggs hatch, but we also learned that there are fewer deformities in the shaded-hatchlings. All sea turtles are endangered. Only 1 in 1,000 will survive long enough to return to the beach of its birth. Every little bit helps. When the oceans die, we die.

The photo above was taken during an exhumation. Even though this turtle is alive, it was unable to hatch naturally from its egg. When the egg was opened, we discovered that this particular specimen was an albino (and most likely the reason for its difficulty, as albinism in turtles is a severe liability and the presence of albinism also suggests the failure of development and impairment of other life systems).

Pura Vida mañana!


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