130. A Pup’s Trip To The Beach

Bbeach Day Chilling GIF from Bbeach Day GIFs After the excitement of cows in the yard, I’ll admit, we’ve had a pretty uneventful next few weeks which, in turn, leads to boring blogging. If your not sure what we are talking about you can read about it by clicking here -----> Holy Cows Friday 8/11- The morning started with a turtle walk for Ramie. They found 1 nest this morning and his team is on week number 5 of finding at least one nest on each walk. I wonder how long their streak will last before they get skunked. We’ll be sure to keep you updated in the coming weeks! So far, for Ramie’s 2 walks since I fixed his backpack for the 2nd time, he hasn’t had any issues, so my fingers are crossed that this last repair will last a while!! I had a normal workday today so nothing exciting to talk about there, which was fine by me given the excitement of the cows yesterday!! This evening Geoff and Tracy wanted to go out to celebrate my birthday, and of course we were happy to go and hang

98. Baby Sea Turtles! 🐢

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Saturday 10/1- While it was my Saturday off, we stuck around the house, made some cookies in the AM, drank a Chiliguaro (Costa Rican Bloody Mary), worked on the blog (I am over a month behind on writing them, eek!!), listened to music, relaxed… I don’t always need a beach day on my day off! 😊 It was kind of rainy and drizzly all day anyway, so it was a good day to just stay in.

Tuesday 10/4- We have been hearing about baby turtle releases fairly often lately but never knew how to find out about them before they actually happened, usually for things like this we don’t find out about them until after we’ve already missed the event. One of our neighbors posted a video on her Facebook page of a release that she went to yesterday, so Ramie reached out to her to ask how she heard about it. She told us that she has a lifeguard friend and he notifies her but they only find out about a half hour before the release. So Ramie, being the researcher, found the Facebook page of the turtle research center in Ojochal, so now we can see beforehand when the releases will be. The unfortunate part is that these usually happen in the mid-morning and you only have about a 30 minute warning when they happen. I was bummed because unless it fell on a Thursday or Saturday, I probably wouldn’t be able to go because of work and planned meetings.

Today they put a notice out to the public at about 1:00, that there would be one this afternoon at 3. I made a quick decision that I’d finish working a little bit early today and said yes, we are doing it! Ramie got a hold of Geoff & Tracy to see if they wanted to go with too, and of course they were up for it. The release was just a little bit further down the road from our Sand Dollar beach that we’ve been going to. We found out that the turtle research center is also located close to the beach they would be releasing them at. We arrived at the beach about a half hour early, and as we waited for it to begin I was surprised by the amount of people that were there. I guess since there was a lot of notice this time and it was in the afternoon (most we’ve seen were mid mornings) that a lot of people were able to make it to this one.

Even though we were standing and waiting on a beach right outside of the research center, I guess they couldn't release the turtles right at this very place because it was too close to the river that flows into the ocean and not the actual ocean beach. The whole group of people would have to walk across the river, thankfully it was low tide and the water was only about knee deep, and a long hike down the beach to get past the outlet of the river. We finally made it after about a 10 minute walk. The staff drew a semicircle in the sand which we had to stay outside of for the protection of the babies. If the baby turtles happened to crawl to you, or washed up around your feet due to a wave, we were told to stand still and not move, to just let them crawl across your feet. You just didn't want to step on them since they are only slightly bigger than a silver dollar and blend in with the sand pretty well. We also were not allowed to touch them, because the bacteria on our hands could infect them. 

A volunteer holding one of the babies so you could get pictures

They were releasing Olive Ridley turtles and they only hatched less than 30 minutes before. There were about 60 that were being released today. We found out that these particular turtles can lay over 100 eggs in a single nest. Since there were so few in this batch, it likely meant that the momma turtle that laid these may have been quite old or a first time momma. Once all of the guests were safely lined up outside of the circle, the volunteers from the research center poured them out of the bucket and the babies began making their way toward the ocean.

The Race is on!

We had little baby turtles all around us at one point, it was really something awesome to see and be a part of! They would get washed back up ashore by a wave and have to start their journey back, sometimes farther away from the ocean than they started. The volunteers would sometimes help them along by picking them up and placing them nearer the water if they were having a real hard time crawling along. After a majority of the babies had swam away many of the onlookers left. We stayed until the very last one swam away.

Last one in is a rotten egg!
Ramie getting up close and personal for his pictures


Here are those pics

 

Ramie was very interested in this and asked one of the staff members about volunteer opportunities for people who live locally. The staff actually didn't know much about it since they were short time interns, but one of the local volunteers overheard Ramie’s conversation and told him that yes they need help to walk the beaches and look for turtle nesting sites at night. The majority of the time the walks are after dark or very early morning- the time of night depends on the tides. They look for sea turtles that have crawled up on the beach and are laying their eggs, they measure, tag, and release the mom turtle, gather the eggs, and bring the eggs back to the nursery to develop and hatch. The reason for this is because of poaching. It's illegal to do now but eating turtle eggs was traditional before it was banned. Ramie and the volunteer exchanged contact info and also she also gave him the Supervisors contact info to reach out to and introduce himself. The volunteer also said she will get a hold of him later in the day, with information on the next few times that they are walking the beach. That evening Ramie heard back and had been oked to help volunteer. He was sent a guide on do’s and don’ts and what happens when you find a turtle or a nest.

Thursday 10/6- Guess what?! It's time to go look for turtles and nests! Since I am off work today, we were both able to go. These walk’s generally happen in the middle of the night or the early morning depending on the tides, today’s began at 5am, so at least we could sleep most of the night! I am usually awake early, so it was just another day for me. I was already awake when the alarm went off at 4am.

We got to the beach early (like we always do) and waited around for some of the other volunteers to arrive. When the first other volunteers got there, they told us that the rest of the group was running a little bit late, but we would start the walk on the “short” side of the beach, and when the rest arrived, we’d all go together to do the long side. They explained to us what we were watching for, what to do if you did find signs of a turtle that crawled up on the beach, or if the tracks were gone, what to look for where they may have nested, and what to do if you actually do find a nest. There is also the possibility that you will find the turtle while she is still laying her eggs, but since we were out there today in the daylight, that was unlikely. Typically you only find the turtle when you do these at night, since the turtle feels the safest in the dark. As we were walking, we got to chatting and learned a little bit about each other, we all shared stories about how and why we ended up here in Costa Rica, and shared a little bit about each other's backgrounds. This short end of the beach wasn’t very far so it didn’t take us real long to get to the end, once there, we turned around and went back to the starting point.

By now, the rest of the group had arrived (8 of us total) so we started on our trek down the long side of the beach, which we found out is 4.2km, 2-½ miles one direction. We always wanted to walk this beach and now I guess we get to, and even with a purpose. We kind of split off into groups- not intentionally, but just by the pace that people walked, and chatted about all kinds of things as we went. During the night time walks there isn’t a lot of opportunity to chat because they don’t want to scare any turtles that might be on the beach, but again, since it is light out, the chances of a turtle coming onto the beach now were low. We made it most of the way down the beach before we saw any signs of turtles, and then all of a sudden one of our fellow volunteers saw what looked like a turtle track coming up the sand. The small group of us that were at the front of the herd investigated the area and waited until the biologist who was with us caught up. After investigating what appeared to be the nesting area, they determined that this nest had already been poached. This is one of the biggest problems with the turtle nesting here, the poachers find and steal the eggs before the turtles ever even have a chance to hatch.

Once we determined that there wouldn’t be any eggs here to dig up, the nest was GPS marked and made notes that it was poached, and we continued walking down the beach. We got to an area again where it looked like there might be another nest, but the signs were fading. It may have rained a little bit overnight and some of the signs in the sand had washed away, so we were going to investigate further.

The Biologist showed us how to use a stick to find where the egg-cavity of the nest is by pressing holes in the ground and feeling for the soft hollow spot. The stick will just sink when you find the right spot.

Here the Biologist, Graciela, is showing us how to located the actual nest.

Once she found the location, she dug a little bit in the sand until she could tell that she was in the right place, and then let Ramie take over. She first explained to Ramie that there would be a temperature difference between the egg cavity and the surrounding sand. She had him dig a hole outside the nesting area and then dig to find the eggs in the nest. The sand was considerably warmer, he says. All of the other volunteers had done this before, so they let us do it for the first time. 


Ramie got down on his hands and knees and started gently digging in the sand until he uncovered the eggs. They are about the size of a ping pong ball and he was then instructed to take out some of the sand from the nest and place it in the bucket. 

Uncovering the first of the eggs

The sand from the nest has enzymes from the momma turtle to help prevent bad bacteria. The next step was to start carefully moving the eggs from the nest into the bucket. After he had a few out, the Biologist informed us that this actually wasn’t a completely fresh nest, it looks like these eggs had been laid a few days ago, so it is very lucky that we found them before poachers or predators did! She knew this by the way the eggs looked. Fresh eggs are more clear and these were almost completely white.  She showed us evidence that that the embryo had already attached to the shell which meant that we had to be extra careful handling them.

A few of the other volunteers continued down the beach while we worked on this nest, and wouldn’t you know it, they found another one just a little way farther. What a lucky morning, 2 turtle nests on our first walk!! And they were almost all the way at the end of the beach at the turn-around point.

Ramie continued to take out more and more eggs, and completely filled the bucket he was putting them into and had to start on bucket number 2.  The other volunteers were already done with the other nest and back watching Ramie again before he finished with this nest. 

Ramie making a turtle cake as they call it because its a layer of sand, then eggs, then sand and repeat until the bucket is full.

The nest they found only had 43 eggs. At some point Ramie lost count of how many eggs he had collected, but we’d have a chance to count them later when we relocated them to the nursery. There were only 2 broken eggs in the nest (which you can see sitting next to the bucket in the picture above). No one ever mentioned if they usually find broken ones or how many, but for as many as there were here, I think only 2 broken ones wasn't too bad. We also measured the tracks, GPS marked the nest, filled in the empty nest and marked it with a stick. 

Here another volunteer is measuring the width of the turtle track

Once all of the eggs were safely packed into their buckets, and the buckets then placed into backpacks so they were easier to carry, we all headed back to the parking lot. At this point I remembered to look at my watch and it was about 6:40am. 

Once again the groups split up a little bit as we made the walk back to the cars, still continuing to look for signs, because it is possible a turtle could come up on the beach after we passed the first time. We made it back to the original starting point about an hour later (keeping in mind, we were all walking at a pretty good pace, no leisurely beach stroll this morning!!) Ramie was a proud turtle mom now and carried his eggs all the way back to the car. 

Ramie carrying one of the buckets in his backpack and looking a little exhausted.  Be careful you don't jostle them around!!

Once we regrouped at the cars, they asked if we wanted to be part of the group to go back and relocate the eggs to the nursery. Of course we would! We don’t have anything else planned for today and since we’re here and have eggs, we might as well get to see the whole process! We all loaded up into our vehicles and headed to the reserve where they have a facility set up to hatch the eggs.

At the reserve they showed us to a small area where they “plant” the turtle eggs (I only say plant because you dig a hole, put them in, and cover it up, just like seeds!) The nursery is close to where we went to the baby turtle release and it's a fenced and monitored area. The nursery is basically a giant sand box that is all gridded and is currently completely full of eggs. They had a few open spots and showed Ramie to his plot and told him to start digging again. He dug a hole that was about elbow deep and the same size as the one that he had dug these eggs out of. He had to, one by one, place them all gently back into the hole, put the sand from the original nest on top of them and then finish covering them up. This time we were sure to count them, and there were 98 eggs that Ramie planted back at the nursery. If you include the 2 that were broken in the nest, that was a perfect 100 eggs for this turtle. Way to go momma!

Each round wire cage is above a nest that has been relocated to the nursery. That is a lot of eggs!
Ramie is digging a hole at the nursery to "plant" the eggs back into.
All done and filled in, now just to wait for them to hatch

We found out it takes about 50-60 days for them to hatch and about another 5 days for them to emerge from the sand once they've been freed of their shells. It all depends on the temperature of the sand, and how much it rains, since rain cools the sand, they may take longer to hatch. Here at the nursery they monitor the eggs and know roughly when they will hatch and help them emerge. Once they are all hatched, the babies are then brought back to the beach they were found at, not to the actual nest location but just the same beach. We also found out that one turtle can return to the beach 3-4 times during mating season and lay eggs. That is just amazing! Please check out the reserve if this interests you.

Reserva Playa Tortuga 

Before we end this week's blog, we have some other exciting news. Today we also found out that our residency was approved!! After only a few more steps (that will still take a few months to complete) we will have temporary residency in Costa Rica. What does this mean for us?

-We will be part of the national health care system and will be covered at their public health clinics & hospitals in case we may ever need it.

-We will no longer have to do border runs every 90 days (The best part of having residency)

-We will get to use the nationals line at immigration and bypass the long line for tourists and visitors (the 2nd best part of having residency)

-We will get a Costa Rican ID card and be able to get a Costa Rican Driver License

So to celebrate this we went to Loren and Nancy's to give them the good news over a drink and a game of dice to end our pretty exciting day.

Pura Vida



Comments

  1. So cool! I want to come and turtle hunt! -T

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The main season is June-Dec. But the peak of that season is Sept-Nov. So you have to plan a trip to come down around that time.

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  2. I think it is so awesome that you helped outwith the turtles! what a cool experience

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a very rewarding experience. Real time update, Im still helping out and volunteering and have no plans in the future to stop.

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