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Published: August 21st 2010
La Tortuga Feliz, Part II… baby turtles! Or as we learned to call them… tortugitas!
Aside from our beach patrol responsibilities, our other duty was to man the hatchery. That meant working 4-hour shifts to keep it guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as well as building the correct nests for incoming eggs at night. Even though I didn't have a lot of turtles that I saw on patrol, I had a lot to do during my hatchery shifts!
A few days into my week of volunteering, we received our hatchery training and practiced building the nests into sand. There are 3 types of turtles that nest on the LTF island: leatherback, green and hawksbill. Leatherback turtle season was from March - June, so we were in the beginning of green turtle nesting season. Hawksbill turtles come up year round, but rarely came up to this particular beach - at most 10 per year - though during my week 2 had been seen! Each type of turtle has a slightly different type of nest that needs to be built. Since a large part of LTF's mission was to keep everything as natural as possible, building the
correct type of nest with the correct dimensions and depths was of the upmost importance As a result of all the care taken to protect the nests and make them natural, the hatch rate was higher in our hatchery than in nature!
The first one I had was from 10 pm - 2 am. Prime nesting time. Within the first hour, I got wind that we had 3 nests coming our way . I was excited, but also a bit frustrated: I had just walked 3 nights in a row without seeing my own turtle, 2 nights without even seeing tracks! And now… within 3 hours of patrols being out, there were already at least 3 turtles spotted?? Time to get busy. It was important to be prepared for incoming nests - after a turtle is finished laying eggs, there is a small window of time before the eggs start to develop. Keeping them out of the nest would be fine if it weren't for the fact that the nest environment and temperature is incredibly vital to the development of the turtle. The temperature of the sand
even is the determining factor of whether a turtle is a male or female. Depending on how long the eggs took to be transported to the hatchery, the nest had to be build quickly and accurately. At the same time, digging a nest before the arrival of the eggs could be detrimental, since the sand could dry out rendering the nest's temperature unnatural, especially if on the way back from getting a nest the group came across another nesting turtle and had to wait for those eggs, as happened a few times.
Building the nests was actually pretty exciting, and involved. The scene: it's night, and all you have is your red head lamp to light your way. All the while you lay on your stomach and start to methodically dig a 60 cm deep hole, making sure it doesn't cave in, making sure the opening is the right width, making sure that it bowls out at 30 cm into a specific shape - making sure you do it quickly and efficiently enough while the eggs sit there waiting for you. But that's not all - next comes to replacing of the eggs into the hole, while you pick
them up, transfer them into the new nest, count them, and cover them carefully. Quite the responsibility at 2 AM!
My other hatchery shifts were during the day / at a time when no patrols were really that active. All those consisted off was walking the hatchery every 10-15 minutes making sure that no nests had hatched, and watching for ants/crabs - two of the predators that nests faced. The 6 AM - 10 AM shift was nice because of the sunrise, and it gave you a nice leisurely day to relax. The other shift that I had was 10 AM - 2 PM, which was nice because I got a nice tan haha! I didn't do any others since I was walking on patrol, and unfortunately right after both of my shifts ended some baby turtles hatched so I didn't get to experience entering all the data for the newly emerged hatchlings. However, it was still a good experience to be there.
I wish there were parts III and IV to my volunteering story. I'd definitely go back and become a longer-term volunteer. I enjoyed the week I spent there, and I think it was worthwhile… but
spending more time there would have been even more enjoyable -- as well as increasing the chances of going through the entire process of finding a nesting turtle, collecting all the data of the turtle, gathering the eggs, building the nest, and eventually watching that same nest hatch into dozens of tortugitas.
As it is, it is time to say goodbye for now to LTF and be off to San Jose. For the few remaining days that my sisters and I have left in Costa Rica, we'll be exploring the central valley / San Jose region. It may not be the Costa Rica you first think of, but we'll make it fun and worthwhile. So, thanks for everything, turtles... until next time! BUENOS!
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