Few sensations are strong enough to leave an impression. A 3 a.m. march along Pejeperro beach is one of them. Phosphorescent plankton light up with every step, mirroring the Milky Way above. At times the sea air is so thick with mist that it feels like breathing underwater. A red toned light can be used from time to time if needed, however it is often avoided to minimize interference with the turtles. Over time the beach becomes a long tunnel of sounds and smells, punctuated by tiny scraps of light
Every day, volunteers patrol the beaches near Piro Biological Station in the early hours, looking for signs of turtles coming ashore to nest. These patrols form part of a greater data collection and conservation program aimed at restoring populations of turtles in the area. I was lucky enough to spend five weeks volunteering with this program. During my stay, my work was split between my duties with the turtle program and a range of other projects – both scientific and practical – that were being undertaken at the station. Some days I would be helping milk the cows and plant new crops at the sustainable farm, others I would be recording the tracks of different animals along the riverbanks to assist the big cat monitoring program. The ability to be constantly learning and exploring the fields of passionate people was an immense privilege. While the work was sometimes challenging, it was always fascinating.
Even by starlight, turtle tracks are easy to spot – especially if the tide is low. They appear as a great black line in the sand, gradually resolving to scuffled entry and exit tracks as you get closer. A quick glance at whether the flipper marks form asymmetrical scratches or symmetrical ridges can provide the species of turtle, which is then recorded along with a range of observations on what the turtle actually did on its venture from the water. The volunteers then walk on, searching for the next sign.
Observations about life on the Osa Peninsula:
- Pelicans air-surf waves to help them glide further.
- Ventilation and acoustic privacy are mutually exclusive.
- Spider monkeys don’t like people standing beneath them.
- Spider monkeys have excellent aim.
- It is best not to stand beneath spider monkeys.
- Hermit crabs come out of their shell when you breathe on them.
- River otters like to display their feces.
- Scorpions like to live in towels.
- Scorpions also like to live in clothing.
- Leaf cutter ants mostly target leaves, but will also accept sandals.
- Turtle eggs can be damaged by changes in orientation.
- Fireflies shine both green and orange.
- Smokey Jungle Frogs scream when threatened.
- Coatis forget where you are if you stop moving.
- Nightjars’ eyes shine so bright that their bodies are often never seen.
- Cannot confirm that nightjars are not simply pairs of luminescent orange balls.
- Armadillos build particularly concave roofs in their burrows to accommodate their “armour”.
- Male anole lizards will display their neck-flap if you hold a mirror up to them.
- It is mandatory to wave when you see someone else on the road.
- There is more than one way to eat a coconut.