CTF Fund Sea Turtle Conservation Trip To Costa Rica
To mark World Oceans Day 2021, Creating Tomorrow’s Forests helped fund a conservation volunteer travel to Costa Rica to take part in a turtle conservation programme. The project aims to help preserve the amazing sea turtles, create safer nesting grounds, increase understanding, and ensure more hatchlings make it to the Pacific Ocean to allow for the continuation of the species.
Over the space of a few weeks we received updates from our conservation volunteer, Lydia, who was busy taking part in nightly beach patrols, preparing and maintaining the turtle hatcheries, beach clean-ups, reforestation activities and much more.
Did you know there are seven species of sea turtles? Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Kemp's Ridley, Olive Ridley and Flatback.
Matapalo Beach, Costa Rica. Photo credit: Tomorrow's Forests
So where was Lydia exactly?
Lydia set up camp on Matapalo Beach, located in the area of Quepos, Province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica. It is a sandy beach habitat home to a wide variety of organisms, such as crustaceans, molluscs, birds, and reptiles. It is also home to the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle and sometimes Leatherback Turtles, and the Galapagos Green Turtle, all of which are endangered or critically endangered, such as the Leatherback Turtle (UICN, 1995).
The goals of the project:
- To save sea turtles from extinction
- Work on projects to improve the environment for nests and to make the hatchlings journey to the Pacific Ocean safer
- Research these creatures so a greater understanding of how to save them can be gained
- Enable interaction between international volunteers and their local hosts.
Did you know the sex of sea turtles is determined by the temperature in the nest? Cooler incubation temperatures produce male hatchlings and warmer incubation temperatures produce female hatchlings.
Lydia's first call to action was to get familiar with her surroundings; volunteers can be expected to hike 15 kilometres daily, so it was important that she got her bearings. Once this was done, it was time to take a second and soak up the views of this incredible habitat.
Lydia & another volunteer preparing the turtle hatcheries. Photo credit: Tomorrow's Forests
After figuring out the lay of the land, Lydia was tasked with helping to prepare and maintain the turtle hatcheries, just in time for the turtles to lay their eggs.
This process involved zoning off certain areas of the beach, litter picking, and preparing labels for the nests to come.
Did you know that in the height of the nesting season, sea turtles can lay as many as 125-150 eggs, and will nest multiple times, usually a few weeks apart?
As well as working on the conservation project, Lydia also had to acclimatise to the rising temperatures on the island, with shade and good old H20 her saving grace!
A sea turtle spotted by the rangers on their nightly beach patrols. Photo credit: Tomorrow's Forests
As part of the conservation programme, Lydia and the rangers she was working with had to undertake gruelling beach patrols every night.
Lydia gave us a first-hand account of just what is involved on these patrols and why they are so important.
"Our beach patrols involved 10km walks along the beach with nothing but the moonlight guiding us, as this is when the turtles come out. We weren't allowed to use torches as these confuse the turtles, so some of the rangers used red lights.
Our aim was to find a mother turtle before she started nesting and then bring her back to the hatchery to lay the eggs in a pre-made nest and protect them from predators and poachers hunting the turtles for their shells.
One of the things I was so amazed by was the dedication shown by the rangers here. They are extremely passionate about conserving the coastline of Matapalo for these endangered turtles and all wildlife. Some of the rangers even undertake night shifts in the hatcheries to keep an eye out for predators and anything that could endanger the nests. It is incredible!"
Now once the hatcheries have been created, the beaches have been cleaned and while everyone waits for the turtles to lay their eggs, there are a number of nature conservation efforts that take place on the beaches of Matapalo.
Lydia taking part in a tree planting conservation project. Photo credit: Tomorrow's Forests
Lydia, ever the multitasker, was busy working away in the sun, planting a number of different tree species across the beach.
Explaining which tree species were planted and why this was happening, Lydia said:
"The trees we planted were almond, mango and soursop. The reason that we were planting them was to attract a wider variety of birds to the island, as well as increasing the biodiversity of this wonderful location."
As a result of these planting efforts, keen birdwatchers have been known to find hundreds of different species of birds, including hummingbirds, kingfishers, tanagers, orioles, and toucans.
After weeks of preparation and hard work from Lydia and the rangers, hatching season finally began.
Baby sea turtles released into the ocean for the first time. Photo credit: Tomorrow's Forests
Lydia describes witnessing this once in a lifetime event for us, saying: “Imagine an adorable fleet of tiny turtles, with amazing strength and determination, making a mad dash toward the ocean.
Well, that was the scene recently in Costa Rica, as I finally witnessed the release of the turtle hatchlings who were making their way to the ocean for the very first time. It's been a long wait for these hatchlings, as it usually takes about 45-65 days to hatch once the eggs are laid.”
Lydia described how nervous she was watching the hatchlings make their way to the sea, explaining that "this is the most dangerous time for the hatchlings as they're extremely vulnerable to predators."
These predators can include ghost crabs, birds, raccoons, dogs, and fish. Astonishingly, due to human impact including unsustainably developed coastlines, industrial fishing practices (in which turtles are accidentally netted), poaching, climate change, water pollution and the consumption of turtle meat and eggs, it is estimated that only 1 in 1000 baby sea turtles will live to be adults.
That is why these conservation projects are so important in helping to preserve these amazing sea creatures and to ensure more hatchlings make it to the Pacific Ocean to allow for the continuation of the species. Incredibly, for those hatchlings that do survive, they will go on an extraordinary journey before miraculously returning, years later, to nest at the exact same site of their birth.
Lydia on Matapalo Beach, Costa Rica. Photo credit: Tomorrow's Forests
As Lydia’s time on the beaches of Matapalo in Costa Rica came to an end, we asked her how she was feeling after this amazing experience and what it had taught her.
"First of all, I have to say that this really has been a once in a lifetime opportunity! I've learnt so much during my time here and will never forget the image of the tiny, beautiful baby turtles as they made their way to the ocean for the very first time.
The work itself was physically exhausting at times due to the heat, and it sometimes felt like an impossible task due to the amount of work that was required - beach cleans never felt fully finished!
Saying that, having seen first-hand the work that goes in to protecting these endangered species and the dedication shown by the rangers, it really highlighted for me how little we take into consideration the lives of other animals around us, it’s only when they're facing extinction that the importance seems to shine through! It was definitely an eye-opening experience for me on a personal level."
We were captivated by Lydia’s journey and loved sharing her experiences with our followers, so again we just want to say a big thank you to Lydia for all her hard work and we look forward to seeing what adventures she gets up to next.