Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Early Arrival – a Sea Turtle Surprise

Sea Turtles Galore!

We just wrapped up the peak sea turtle season here in Osa and are proud to announce that this year we released over 20,000 baby sea turtles! The hatchlings were from nests relocated to our hatchery because they were vulnerable to predation or to the whims of the river that runs along and often through the beach OC monitors. Since these nests were likely to have been lost altogether, our hard working volunteers and staff have given 20,000 more sea turtles a chance to make it in this world. A huge thanks to everyone who visited and lent a hand this year on the Osa Conservation Sea Turtle Conservation Program. 
In this weeks blog, we hear from a long-term research assistant about his surprise discovery one morning at the sea turtle hatchery. 

Written by: Charles Wheeler

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In the early hours of the 2nd November 2015 a clutch of 82 Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) eggs were laid by a female on Piro Beach. This would be the first Green turtle nest to be relocated to the hatchery this year. The overwhelming anticipation to witness the first green turtle hatchlings was endured for 63 days until the joyful day arrived on the 4th January 2016.

My name is Charles Wheeler and I am one of the research assistants for the Sea Turtle Programme at Osa Conservation. I was scheduled for the morning patrol on this day and was expecting a normal routine patrol on the beach with the possibility to release some Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) hatchlings, the most abundant species of turtle eggs within the hatchery. After patrolling the beach and recording three new Green turtle nests, I arrived at the hatchery. I open the door to find some escaped hatchlings crawling around, at first I noticed something different about the hatchlings they were larger and had white bellies. After a few seconds of confusion I realised these were in fact the green turtles and they had hatched seven days early. Unable to control my excitement like a small child on Christmas morning, I hurried around the hatchery collecting all the hatchlings and placing them into buckets. There were a total of 50 Green turtles as well as 70 Olive Ridley hatchlings that had emerged over night. turt2Knowing that this was a rare opportunity to release fifty green babies I couldn’t just stay and liberate them myself. So I left the turtles safely secured inside the hatchery and ran from the beach back to the station 1.6km away to tell everyone else the great news! Being able to watch the liberation of these two endangered species gives immense job satisfaction and I am proud to be a part of this conservation programme protecting these international species.

You may have seen Charles on our Facebook page recently when we shared a selfie he couldn’t resist snapping after coming across a rebellious sea turtles that decided to nest during the day, breaking all the rules. If not, check it out at this link and like our page to follow us.

Charles and Green Sea Turtle selfie

Marine Conservation, Science and Research, Sea Turtles

La Vida en el Paraiso

Written by: Sukee Bennett

There’s something about measuring squirming sea turtle hatchlings that automatically puts a smile on my face. But this batch of babies was extra special. They were from a nest that I relocated on my very first patrol on Piro, way back in the beginning of September. A little over fifty days later, and the ping-pong shaped eggs I once placed in a bucket and buried in the hatchery had resulted in one hundred flipper-flapping babies. I was enthralled.

sea turtle 1Flash-forward two hours later, when my fellow Research Assistant Erin and I were leaning against a palm tree outside of our vivero de tortugas marinas (sea turtle hatchery) and reading. We were waiting on the arrival of a large group of college students and Osa Conservation employees to help us liberate our new hatchlings before sunset. As Casey (the other Sea Turtle Research Assistant in our group of three) whistled, I craned my neck around to say hello. But to my surprise, Casey wasn’t the only one demanding attention. A female Olive Ridley (Lora) was slowly hauling her body up the sandy embankment in front of me to lay her eggs. It looked as if she was using her two not-so-terrestrial but powerful front flippers to head directly to where I sat, which also happened to be directly in front of our hatchery. And it was 4:00 in the afternoon.

Olive Ridleys are in fact known to lay eggs during daylight, but typically in large groups called arribadas (meaning “the arrival” to the people where this phenomenon occurs). However, arribadas do not occur on Piro, or anywhere on the Osa for that matter. The female in front of us was clearly alone.

sea turtle 2Fifteen minutes later, she was hard at work digging her nesting hole, and the rest of our party had arrived to share in this incredibly rare and special moment. Afterwards, over three hundred babies released from our hatchery scrambled across the sand, parallel with the tracks our afternoon visitor had left. They safely entered the waves, illuminated by the setting sun.

sea turtle 3Just a few nights ago, we had another visitor at the hatchery. She was much larger and slightly more ornate; a Green turtle (Verde). And rather than having the light from a setting sun framing her, we had one of the clearest nights I have ever witnessed. Countless constellations blanketed the sky, adorned with the occasional shooting star. As we walked in the sand, the pressure from our bare feet sparked a bioluminescent lightshow: blue, fluorescent, and sparkling. I grew tired as we waited for the Green to dig her nest, but I hardly dared to close my eyes in fear of missing something.

I have less than a week left here now, but moments like these will stay with me for a lifetime. Working in sea turtle conservation is a grand privilege within itself, but there truly is no other place like the Osa.

Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors, Wildcats

My Experience in the Osa

Hello my name is Kenroy and I am a student at the Professional Technical College Sabalito (Costa Rica), a school in which students can study rural tourism. Over the past three years of studying in this program, I have learned the importance of tourism in Costa Rica.

roy 3At the end of our three year program, students choose a place for supervised practice, in my case I chose Osa Conservation. This organization carries out projects related to volunteerism and research, in addition to the monitoring and conservation of wildlife. Osa Conservation opened the doors for me to practice my skills. I arrived on October 6th to the organization’s field station located in Piro, one of several properties that Osa Conservation has in this area.

Simply arriving was a great adventure, because I took many forms of transportation to get there from my home in Sabalito. One of the most interesting legs of this is the boat leaving Golfito crossing the Golfo Dulce. In the 30 minutes it takes the boat to reach Jimenez you can admire many beautiful landscapes. If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of dolphins and whales!

I also found the “colectivo” to be an interesting and unique travel experience. This is the only form of public transport used to reach the station in Piro and is a large truck with benches in the back. Although the journey is long and bumpy, it’s very important and worth it because it allows tourists and locals to travel around Osa and to Piro.

In this organization, volunteers help with projects such as beach cleaning, turtle patrols, monitoring big cats, working in the nursery, sustainable agriculture, reforestation, and general conservation. One of the most exciting things is the work done with sea turtles.  I have seen very few turtles in my life, so this is a great opportunity to learn many things about them and their conservation.

The work done in the vivero, or sea turtle nursery, is also very important, because each time you find a nest in a vulnerable area, where the tide can expose turtle eggs, they are extracted and taken to the nursery. Here they are in one place safe, in the right temperature and without predators. This is a way to ensure the successful birth of most of the turtles.

turtle nest

It is a beautiful experience because when the turtles hatch they are released on the beach, where they swim out to sea to begin what we hope is a long life. I have also been working with camera traps, which are a form of wildlife monitoring that runs 24 hours a day. Thanks to the camera traps, Osa Conservation can keep track of cats and other mammals that would otherwise be difficult to observe.

These cameras are placed at strategic points throughout the property and Osa Conservation is encouraging and training other landowners of the Peninsula so that they can monitor their properties in order to create a larger network of eyes on the Osa.

Cleaning of the beaches has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had since I came to the the Piro station. I hope to have many more amazing experiences in the next two months, to contribute as much as possible to this organization and of course the conservation of the Osa Peninsula.

 

Aquatic Health, Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

The Future of Sea Turtles

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The fluttering of papery wings; back and forth, back and forth. They open and close their tiny mouths. Nocturnal hungry bats, paired with the incessant whir of cicada wings and the low, ominous drone of Howler monkeys are the evening calls of the Osa. These sounds signify the awakening of all things that dwell in the night. Usually, it also signifies our bedtime; unless it’s an evening of turtle patrol.

When I took herpetology as a senior in college three years ago, my professor used to joke that, “Herpetologists are the night-owls and ornithologists are the morning people”. But, working with sea turtles breaks the mold. Sometimes, we rise at 3:30am. Donning our headlamps, we make our way down the winding forested trail to Piro or Pejeperro Beach, and scout for turtle tracks and hatchlings as the sun paints purple and pink ribbons across the sky. Sometimes, we have to sip on coffee (like the local Ticos do) post-dinner to keep us from falling asleep before a night patrol. Patrols typically begin at 8:30pm and can last beyond 1:00am. In my three weeks of being here, I’ve seen five Loras (Olive ridleys) and two Verdes (Greens) gingerly crawl from the surf to lay their eggs. I’ve measured their shells and tagged their flippers . And just last night, we saw a white light flashing ever closer to us on Piro—a sign of poachers. We had to abandon patrol.baby turtle

Poaching of turtle eggs is a sad reality here in Costa Rica. For many, it’s a feasible way to make a living and support a family. But through education, the next generation can learn the importance of conserving their country’s already threatened sea turtle species.

As a sea turtle Research Field Assistant, my main responsibilities are conducting patrols, maintaining the hatchery, and providing a steady presence on the beach. But the Carate Sea Turtle Festival last Saturday reminded me of my experience with outreach education. The enthusiasm and receptivity of the children around me was incredible, whether they be Spanish speaking locals or English speaking visitors. All partook in eagerly picking up and exploring local invertebrates with spoons and forceps, and dashing around the beach like a mother turtle (but a little faster). They learned what sea turtles eat (seagrasses, sponges, jellies, ect.), what they accidentally eat (plastic), and how we can keep plastics out of our ocean by using reusable alternatives. Later, we danced to a local band that sang songs about el bosque and la playa and the animals that call them home. Mid-dance, I helped a local toddler collect hermit crabs in a bucket. It didn’t matter that I hardly speak Spanish; our enthusiasm spoke for us. I can only hope that every child I met in Carate shared a similar enthusiasm and will remember the day we celebrated sea turtles, for their future is in all of our hands.

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Yoga and Conservation: a pair meant to be

When I came to a yoga retreat in the wilds of Costa Rica, I had no idea one of the best memories I’d take home at week’s end would center around turtles–tiny baby ones, all girls.

But when Manuel Mendoza of Osa Conservation visited Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa to tell us about the work he and his team of volunteers do to protect these magnificent, highly endangered creatures, I couldn’t believe how paramount the need was, and was excited to become involved.

I dragged myself out of bed the next morning at 5:30 am–quite an accomplishment as rain pelted the metal roof of my temporary home, lulling me into a deep sleep I’ve only achieved on tropical vacations. My travel companions and I bounded into two 4-wheel drive vehicles and headed south along a pothole riddled road to the end of the Osa Peninsula, one of the most bio-diverse regions on earth.

Manuel greeted us at the gates to his compound, an open-air Cocina with a separate building for offices and research, surrounded by immense green space and backing up to rain forest as far as the eye could see. This did not look like a suitable home for sea turtles.

The Blue Osa crew was directed to choose from a bushel basket of rain boots, the purpose of which was somewhat lost on me since I was already completely soaked, head to toe, just from making my way from the car. Manuel said we would make a short hike along a muddy jungle path to get to the hatchlings waiting on us to set them free into the great Pacific.

This was not a leisurely stroll through the woods. We walked at a brisk pace, wading through rivers, tripping over enormous tree roots, and slipping in the mud as we went.

Finally, in harmony with the jungle sounds, the roar of the Pacific drew us near and motivated me onward through the unfamiliar territory.

When the forest cleared, churning waves pounded down aggressively in front of Osa Conservation’s hatchery.

Manuel took us through deep sand to the hatchery where we became mesmerized at the big life coming from the group of small creatures. It was otherworldly to reach down and touch the babies, the textures of their feet and shells connecting me to nature in a way I’d never been before.

They scuttled around the buckets we hauled down the beach toward the release area. Our emotions were running high at the task ahead.

Manuel indicated the proper spot and gave us guidelines for the release experience. The numbers were not in the little ones’ favor. Of our 250+ hatchlings only one or two were likely to survive due to the factors working against them. But we didn’t lose hope.

It was a mix of emotions as we pulled each little life from the large green containers and encouraged them down the wide stretch of beach toward the water, which calmed a bit in their good fortune.

The journey for them was short, but for me it had a long-lasting effect. Watching the babies get swept bravely into the sea inspired me. I was filled with joy to have participated in such a pivotal experience.

When I returned to Blue Osa that evening, I spent time on my yoga mat thinking how the impact the hatchlings had on me exceeded the impact I’d had on them–and how Osa Conservation’s efforts are impassioned and infectious.

My body might have been recovering from the hike–achy and blistered–but my soul was content. Rainforest hiking and nature preservation had never been in my immediate skill-set, yet I found a way to make a difference in the Osa.

About The Author

When photographer/writer Leah Wyman found herself in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, she left her job in the church world for the sanctuary that is Blue Osa. A classical singer, composer and conductor with a B.M. degree from Manhattan School of Music and further studies at the University of Oxford in England, Leah is finding inspiring new ways to use her voice–in harmony with howler monkeys, scarlet macaws and crashing ocean waves at blueosa.com.

Community Outreach, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles

6th Annual Sea Turtle Festival

10672207_344762325692045_5765324763308272991_nOn a sunny October morning on Carate beach we had the joy of celebrating the 6th Annual Sea Turtle Festival. We had over 100 participants from the Carate community, neighboring communities and from Puerto Jimenez.

10644940_344788619022749_2245753174087839177_nTo the rhythm of music we begun the first friendly competition: Sandy Sea Turtle Sculptures, with the theme being that of “What does a Sea Turtle eat?” We had three winning families, and they each took home t-shirts with the festivals yearly logo on it. We continued the fun and celebration by opening up a racetrack where groups of 3 children had to respond to different questions about biology and sea turtle1891243_344763322358612_3668310734156387536_n conservation.

All the festival participants, children and adult alike, learned many different aspects of sea turtle adaptations, diseases, and how to evaluate a sea turtles health and how to provide rescue – training based off of real activities performed by “Reserva Playa Tortuga” (Beach Turtles Reserve). Osa Conservation’s workshop 1969177_344788485689429_4617132107964445939_ntaught participant about marcoinvertebrates that live in bodies of water and how to use quality indicators to evaluate water health.

Theater, charades, face painting, and recyclable turtle and jellyfish sculpting, were just some of the fun activities participants got to participate and enjoy throughout 10514511_344789089022702_6835697018030861342_nthe day. The whole event was rounded off by a wonderful lunch donated by the Carate community and Osa Conservation. What a great day!

If you would like to see more pictures click on the link to go to the Facebook Album!

Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles

Leatherback Sea Turtle Sighting on Peje Perro Beach, Osa Peninsula

123Written by Manuel Sanchez and Wanda Cope.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez. Translated by Florencia Franzini

 

It may be the world’s largest species of marine sea turtle, but it is also the most endangered sea turtle species, too. On October 16, 2014 we are delighted to announce that this critically endangered species still has the beaches of the Osa Peninsula as an safe nesting location. It’s gratifying evidence that all of the effort that have been put fourth to protect this majestic creature, along with the other six remaining species of marine turtles, have come to fruition – this is definitely another reason to keep fighting the good fight and continue on with our mission.

In 2004 the first nesting Leatherback turtle was spotted on the Peje Perro beach by Manuel Sanchez and Pablo Modena during a beach monitoring effort – since that year there has not been another sighting on the beach again. In 2013 it was identified that a leatherback turtle had laid one clutch in the 29th sector of the beach. Finally with much happiness we had another official sighting on October 16, 2014. Once again the sight chosen for nesting was on Peje Perro beach, and during the night patrol the tracks of a massive leatherback turtle were identified. Initially the tracks led to a false clutch nest site on sector 29 of the beach (the same site as the 2004 nest), but ultimately not but 500 meters away did the turtle attempt and succeed at the construction of a new nest to lay eggs in.

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Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles

Educational Workshop on Sea Turtle Conservation

Written by: Pilar Bernal

Edited & Translated by: Florencia Franzini

On the 28th of July we received a visit at Piro Biological Station from 9 educators who are currently working throughout the Osa Peninsula and the Golfito region.

A photo of the workshop participants and Osa staff.

A photo of the workshop participants and Osa staff.

Thanks to the help and directive from SEE Turtles, we managed to organize an successful and informative educational workshop on marine sea turtle conservation. During the day professors learned about sea turtle species biology, while also learning techniques to help motivate their students and to help the professors achieve a more dynamic and interactive learning environment in their classrooms.

A workshop presentation being given by participants.

A workshop presentation being given by participants.

At night the workshop participants accompanied Manuel Sanchez, Osa Conservation’s Marine Sea Turtle Program Manager, through his nighttime patrols of the Piro region. During these nocturnal patrols recordings of sea turtle activities are monitored – such as egg laying, nest counting, and sea turtle tracks. After a 30 minutes night-time patrol we managed to observe from afar a dark line in the beach which had been made as a result of tracks from an Olive Ridley sea turtle. Once we reached the high-tide line we discovered a half prepared nest in the roots of a palm tree that lead us to believe the sea turtle had been unable to excavate the incubation chamber and returned to the sea to find another nearby location that might merit better results at a later time. We also visited Osa Conservations sea turtle nursery where currently 25 nests are being housed, one of the nests being that of a Hawksbill sea turtle, one of the most endangered species in the world.

Sharing a game which might be used as a method for further engaging students.

Sharing a game which might be used as a method for further engaging students.

Although the workshop was unable to observe an actual nesting process, the professors did have the experience of being able to participate in the arduous work implemented every night on the nest-patrol throughout Osa beaches, which will in the long run help with the conservation of these beautiful and enigmatic creatures.

Science and Research, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

The 2013 Sea Turtle Season Draws to a Close

by: Lauren Lipuma and Lindsay Metz

alisa.wang

Volunteer Alisa Wang collects vulnerable turtle eggs from the beach for relocation to our hatchery.

The 2013 Sea Turtle Season at Osa Conservation has ended, and what a spectacular year it was! From the opening of the new turtle hatchery to the annual festival on Carate beach, it was an exciting and successful year for OC’s sea turtle conservation program.

The Osa is home to four species of sea turtles: Leatherback, Hawksbill, Olive Ridley, and Pacific Green. Our beaches mainly support populations of nesting Olive Ridley and Pacific Green sea turtles, but Leatherbacks and Hawksbills also make an occasional appearance. OC’s sea turtle season, which runs from July to December, coincides with the peak of Olive Ridley and Hawksbill nesting season. The peak of Pacific Green and Leatherback sea turtle nesting season will not begin until February and will last through March. During this low time, track sighting on our patrol beaches, Pejeperro and Piro, have been rare, and our hatchery is empty and excavated.  The month of December was a time for family and friends and rounding out all the collected data.

 

turtle hatchery

Volunteers collect hatchlings in buckets for release on Piro beach.

It was quite a successful first year for our sea turtle hatchery. When nests are vulnerable, whether from predators, poachers or floodwaters from the nearby river,  we move them to our hatchery. Staff and volunteers always take extra care while moving a nest, and when relocated they will simulate an environment as similar as possible to the original nest. The depth and width of the nest is measured, and sand from the original nest lines the transport bucket as well as the new nest. If the nest was laid in the shade of the vegetation or the sun, our hatchery can accommodate either. This strategy seems to have worked very well so far – 92.6% of all the nests moved this year hatched successfully! With this strategy working well, having hatched thousands of sea turtle eggs, our hopes are high for 2014.

 

hatchery.1

Protected nests at our sea turtle hatchery.

The results are in for turtle sightings and track records on our beaches.  This year we had 7 tagged turtles return to Pejeperro Beach and tagged a total of 136 new turtles between both Piro and Pejeperro beaches.  Almost all of the health assessments for sighted turtles were very good –  only one turtle had fibropapillomas (skin tumors caused by a virus) and two had barnacles.  Even shell, flipper, and skin wounds were rarely recorded. More shell damage was seen on Piro beach, which could indicate more off-shore boat activity near that beach.

 

Turtle.graph

2013 turtle sightings.

As expected, the most commonly sighted turtle was the Olive Ridley (LO), but the Green (CM) takes a close second.  The Hawksbills (EI) are a new addition to our sightings recorded this year, but no Leatherback (DC) tracks or turtles were recorded.  As the graph shows, this was not the best year for our turtles and our sightings records have been slowly decreasing. The reason for this is unknown, but we hope with more data collection in 2014 we can start to solve the problems and the turtle population can rebound.

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Osa Conservation kicks off its 5th annual Sea Turtle Festival!

by Pilar Bernal, Environmental Education & Community Outreach Program Manager

Video by Lindsay Metz

On October 6th, we celebrated our fifth annual Sea Turtle Festival on Carate beach. Over 150 gusts joined us for these festivities highlighting the past year of sea turtle conservation. The sun shone brightly throughout the event while families began pouring in as early as 8 am and stayed throughout the day.

528300_219913218176957_1811426336_nWe began the festival with the release of infant sea turtles from the Corcovado Turtle Committee (COTORCO) hatchery. Afterwards, we played games and held events encouraging public awareness of sea turtle biology and conservation. These events and games supplemented prior environmental awareness workshops we have been implementing throughout the year with several of our participating students.

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1383836_219930191508593_1446306308_nThe kids at the beach enjoyed games such as turtle racing (which tiny turtle will make it to the ocean first?), treasure hunts, face painting, and even an amazing puppet show provided by COTORCO. The Playa Tortuga Reserve hosted an incredible arts and crafts workshop focused on the use of recyclable materials – the creations included sea turtles, whales, and even adorable barnacles. This workshop would not have been possible without the help of Carolina Ramirez, and we would like to extend our thanks to her.

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At the end of the day, we announced the results of the sea turtle conservation projects on Playa Piro-Pejeperro led by Osa Conservation, Carate Conservation and COTORCO. We also highlighted the importance of these beaches as nesting sites for endangered sea turtles and the importance of having joint partnerships to promote the conservation and awareness of these species.

1382433_219910441510568_82074149_n 1383432_219932348175044_75579535_nAnother wonderful sea turtle season has gone by, and we were happy to see so many individuals interested in learning about sea turtle conservation and watching them make their way to the ocean. Seeing so many families together at this community event enjoying themselves and participating in fun events was truly a warming experience.

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