Sea Turtles

Every Day is Sea Turtle Day Here in the Osa

Blogpost written by Marina Garrido, Sea Turtle Volunteer

 

World Sea Turtle Day was just last week and the sea turtle team at Osa Conservation was super excited. Why? Because to us, it is not just a day, but a day in which we hope the whole world can remember and think about, even if just for a moment, these amazing animals.

Sea turtles are one of the most ancient animals alive. They belong to the family Quelonidae, which  also encompasses terrestrial turtles. One interesting fact about sea turtles, is that unlike the terrestrial turtles, they cannot hide their bodies inside their shells.

Photo by Marina Garrido, baby sea turtles journey back to the ocean

Photo by Marina Garrido, baby sea turtles journey back to the ocean

Currently, there are seven sea turtle species swimming in the seas and oceans. Costa Rica is home to four of these species including: the Olive ridley, the Pacific Green turtle, the Hawksbill and the Leatherback. All four of them can be found in the Osa Peninsula!

All sea turtle species are considered highly endangered. Here in Osa Conservation, we are conserving and protecting sea turtles to make a change. How do we do it? We patrol two beaches every day, looking for turtle tracks. If we find a nest, we move it to the hatchery in order to protect it. Thanks to the hatchery we can control the nests and study them to improve the success of the hatchlings. For example, one of the things we control is the temperature of the nests. Why? The sea turtles are reptiles and therefore the temperature surrounding the nest determines gender. Females are born on high temperatures and males on low temperatures. Unfortunately, the temperatures have increased in the past few years due to climate change, and so, more females are being born than males.

Photo by Marina Garrido, volunteers observe a nesting female at night

Photo by Marina Garrido, volunteers observe a nesting female at night

We have been very successful in protecting the turtles thanks to the help of everyone that comes to volunteer. Last year we set around 15,000 hatchlings free. Still we need a lot of help from all of you! Below you can find a little list of things you can do to help the sea turtles:

  • Do not throw any trash into the ocean.
  • Clean the beaches as you walk and close to where you spend time.
  • Reuse and Recycle.
  • Use reusable fabric bags instead of plastic bags.
Photo by Marina Garrido, Sea turtle volunteers release hatchlings back to the ocean

Photo by Marina Garrido, Sea turtle volunteers release hatchlings into the ocean

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE SEA TURTLE DAY FOR YOU TO HELP THE TURTLES. YOU CAN MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN!

 

 

 

 

 

Sea Turtles

Third Sea Turtle Festival

September 18th represented the 3rd Annual Sea Turtle festival on Carate Beach.  About 100 members of Carate, Puerto Jiménez, and surrounding communities participated in sea turtle discussions, presentations fun activities with the theme of conservation.

The festival began with an interactive discussion with children and adults about the principal biological characteristics of the Osa, the turtle species that nest here, and the objectives and activities of the Sea Turtle Conservation Program developed by Osa Conservation on the beaches of Piro, Pejeperro and Carate.

Club Ambiental Las Abejitas of the Saturnino Cedeño School, under Laura Castro’s direction, prepared a theatrical skit for the event about the life of a sea turtle and the natural hazards and human threats that they face as well as the precautions that we must take on the sea turtle nesting beaches.

Activities included games on the beach, like turtle races and turtle sand castles, and a quiz competition about Osa’s biodiversity.  All participants in the event received informative material about sea turtle conservation, stickers, posters, and t-shirts for those who correctly answered the most questions.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s event a success in raising awareness of the importance of conserving these incredible species.

Special thanks to:

SEEturtles, Luna Lodge, La Leona Lodge, ASCONA, Finca Exótica, Dereck Ferguson, Hacienda Río Oro, the Bellanero family, ACOSA, Tranquility, Frontier, Lapa Rios, Hoja de Osa School, Club Ambiental Las Abejitas, Laura Castro, and Mauricio Gutiérrez.

Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Sea Turtle Conservation Program: October Update

We’ve completed another month of the sea turtle conservation program on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica and we’re getting close to the end of the nesting season. After 4 months of tireless work by our field coordinators, field assistants and volunteers, we have registered a total of 1233 sea turtle nests, between Piro and Carate (Fig. 1). As I mentioned earlier, for logistical reasons, we cannot gather daily information from all beaches and visits to Rio Oro beach have been very limited, so this number of sea turtle nests should be considered a minimum; i.e., the actual number of sea turtle nests on these beaches is higher than reported here.

Figure 1. Total nests registered, according to month, beach and species. CM: Chelonia mydas agassizii, DC: Demochelys coriacea, EL: Eretmochelys imbricata, LO: Lepidochelys olivacea

Of these 1233 recorded nests, we know that at least 242 (20%) were predated. Of predated nests, 43% were by humans, while the remaining 57% were predated by dogs, pigs, crabs and other animals. We can reasonably estimate that approximately 10,600 eggs have been illegally removed between Piro and Carate for human consumption (assuming that each nest had 100 eggs and they were all taken).

If we focus on the Olive Ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea), the most common sea turtle species on the Osa Peninsula, not taking into account the Rio Oro data, as the data that we have doesn’t appear to be representative of the real situation, we can see that during the 2010 season, Carate beach is where we find the greatest amount of illegal harvesting of eggs (Fig 2). Throughout the season, more than 50% of reported predation is caused by humans, a situation that hasn’t occurred on Piro and Pejeperro beaches.

Figure 2. Percentage of Olive Ridley sea turtle nests predated by humans and other animals according to month and beach.

Remember that you can help us save sea turtles that visit the southern part of the Osa Peninsula in several ways: 1) tell others about our project and the importance of protecting sea turtles, 2) by volunteering with sea turtles or 3) by making a donation to support our sea turtle program or the other conservation work that Friends of the Osa does on the Osa Peninsula.

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

The Continued Threats

By Phoebe Edge, Research Field Assistant (RFA) , Sea Turtle Conservation Program.

Sea Turtle Conservation in Protected Areas

Park guards and lodge employees on the beach for the sea turtle workshop

On all of the morning and night patrols we collect quantitative data from the turtles we encounter, as well as from their tracks and nests. This year we have also begun taking a more active approach protecting as many nests as possible from both natural and unnatural predators. Metal mesh nets are used to cover each nest we find on Piro beach- so far this method has proved extremely beneficial, as all of the covered nests have shown a high rate of success. All of the protected nests have been left unharmed by predators in the area, giving us at FOO a real incentive to extend this method to surrounding nesting areas.

While we are learning more effective ways to curb natural predators of sea turtle eggs, human poaching continues. Having a larger presence on the beach day and night is yet another battle we are looking to conquer. Last week we invited workers from local lodges and 9 members of MINAET, the government body for environmental matters in Costa Rica, for a 2-day course all about our ancient shelled friends. Organized by our environmental education coordinator, Pilar Bernal, the information was focused on sea turtle behavior, current issues regarding their well-being, and what we are doing here at FOO to ensure the longevity of these species… As well as being an extremely informative time, I think we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves too!

Sea turtle research field assistant

Ashleigh and Tomas at the Piro Research Center

Four members of MINAET stayed at the Piro Research Center for four days after the course to night patrol with us to look for signs of recent poaching and possible culprits. We even learned a little ourselves, like how to crack open coconuts on the beach and enjoy a refreshing beverage compliments of mother nature!

We have just welcomed on board Ashleigh from California who will be staying with us at the Piro Research Center until mid-December as an RFA. She recently graduated from California Polytechnic State University and is quite excited to be able to put all of those hours spent in the books to good use. The Olive Ridleys obviously knew about this as just on her second night patrol we managed to collect data from 21 turtles! It was a perfect night for a patrol, with only a little rain and a full moon´s light to guide us.  Let´s hope it´s the first of many for our newby!

A big thank you to Eliécer Villalta Martínez and Geinor Barquero of MINAET for taking the time to help us here at FOO.  Your time and efforts are genuinely appreciated!

Community Outreach, Sea Turtles

Second Annual Osa Peninsula Sea Turtle Festival

On Sunday September 12 we celebrated the Second Annual Osa Peninsula Sea Turtle Festival on Carate Beach. The objectives of this annual event are to raise community awareness about the importance of joint actions in the conservation of the sea turtle species that frequent the beaches of the Osa Peninsula in the months of nesting, and to share the objectives and results of Friends of the Osa’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program with the community.

Osa Peninsula Sea Turtle Festival Carate

Children made sea turtle sand sculptures

This year at least 120 people from the communities of Carate, Rio Oro, Piro, and Puerto Jimenez participated in the festival.

Puerto Jimenez students presented the play, “Survival of the Sea Turtles,” which told of the dangers that sea turtles are exposed to from the moment they are born. Educational games were played with children in which they acted out different parts of the sea turtle nesting process and lifecycle. Younger children and their parents made sand sculptures of leatherbacks and adults participated in the presentation about the Sea Turtle Conservation Program Piro-Carate.

We also announced the winners of the drawing contest “Survival of the Sea Turtles,” that was held with students from the Piro and Rio Oro schools. On this sunny day participants also played soccer, beach volleyball, sang karaoke and enjoyed a great picnic prepared by the community.

Community Outreach, Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Party in the jungle!

By Phoebe Edge, Research Field Assistant of the Sea Turtle Conservation Program

We are officially half way through this year´s turtle season and it has been a very busy 3 months indeed! Within this time, we have been continuously patrolling our beaches morning and night to help our favorite reptiles. There seems to never be a dull moment, even the walks to the beach prove exciting! Already, we´ve been fortunate enough to have encountered jaguarundi, coati, caiman, anteaters, armadillos, as well as a variety of beautiful and rare frogs and snakes. Last week on a morning patrol in Carate, Greivin and Phoebe were lucky enough to see a group of 6 humpback whales pass by. It really is like a party in the jungle at the moment! Apparently whales can be camera shy so a group photo was out of the question but here´s a shot of one of the females:

Photo by Carlos García

Of course seeing these animals is all well and good but it is the sea turtles we are here for and they´ve proved not to fail with appearances. Olive Ridley are commonly sighted here with Green´s following second, but in the last month we´ve also had a handful of the critically endangered Leatherback and Hawksbill coming up onto our beaches – amazing! Due to the incubation period of some Olive Ridley nests being 45 days we are also starting to see more and more hatchlings appear too. For anyone who has been in the right place at the right time, you´ll know how incredibly cute these youngsters are! Sadly only 1 in 1000 makes it to adulthood which is why it´s so important that we use all of our best efforts to do what we can. One of our protected nests just hatched yesterday morning and we caught a straggler on her way to her new home, the sea. Fingers crossed she will be one of the females returning to the beach in the future to continue the cycle.

Picture by Carlos García.

Baby sea turtle making its way to sea

We would like to take this opportunity to say a HUGE thank you to all of the fantastic volunteers we´ve already had come and help us in our conservation efforts this year. This is a critical time in the history of sea turtles and with the help of volunteers we as humans really can save them from extinction. Please don´t standby whilst the last of these majestic creatures disappears.  Come get involved and make a difference too!

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Conservation Program Piro-Carate: August Update

Last month I shared with you the total data for in situ nests, nest predation and false crawls for the month of July, and mentioned that these data were not adjusted for sampling effort. By sampling effort, I mean the amount of time and / or distance that was invested on each beach to get the data. For example, we monitor 2 km of Piro beach and 4.5 km of Pejeperro beach.  So, it isn’t the same to walk Piro beach and find two turtles as it is to walk Pejeperro beach and find two turtles – the distances covered are very different.  To compare these two values, we must express them in proportion to the distance traveled, i.e. density of turtles per kilometer. In this case, that would be: Piro: 2 / 2 = 1 and Pejeperro: 2 / 4.5 = 0.44.

Sea Turtle Conservation Results through August 2010

Figure 1. Density of sea turtle visits during the months of July and August on the beaches of Piro-Carate, Osa Peninsula 2010.

By calculating the July and August data in this way, taking the sampling effort on each beach into account, we get the results shown in Figure 1. As you can see, Rio Oro is the beach with the highest density of in situ nests, nest predation and false crawls, followed by Pejeperro. From this graph, we can also see that the density of depredated nests on Rio Oro beach is very similar to the density of in situ nests, which is obviously worrying. In the coming days, I will conduct a preliminary analysis of predation in conjunction with Courtney Thomas, one of our assistants, who is using her participation in this project as part of her studies at Evergreen State College.

I would also like to take advantage of this note to thank Mr. Eliecer Villalta and Mr. Geinor Barquero, from MINAET’s Department of Control and Protection, for their support in recent weeks. Their presence, along with other peers in the area, had an immediate effect in reducing poaching of turtle eggs. I hope we can continue to coordinate this type of support throughout the rest of the season.

Remember that you can help us to protect sea turtles that visit the southern part of the Osa Peninsula in several ways: 1) telling others about our project and the importance of protecting sea turtles, 2) participating in our sea turtle volunteer program and 3) by making a donation to help fund the continuation of the Sea Turtle Conservation Program.

Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles

Raising Awareness About Sea Turtle Conservation and Marine Ecosystems of the Osa

Friends of the Osa’s Environmental Education program is carrying out educational activities on the conservation of sea turtles and marine ecosystems in the schools of the Osa Peninsula.

The objectives are for students to learn the importance of sea turtle conservation, why Golfo Dulce is a tropical fjord, and the ecological and scientific implications of this designation.

Students learn about the four sea turtle species that nest every year on the beaches of the Osa Peninsula: Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), East Pacific Green or black turtle (Chelonia mydas agassizii), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea). They also learn about the nesting process, migration, life cycle, threats and efforts being made in the conservation of these species.

Marine Ecosystems Section of the Environmental Education Program
Students learn about the Osa Peninsula’s marine ecosystems

The topographical features of the Golfo Dulce, major ecosystems, both resident and non-resident species, such as humpback whales and the environmental impacts on ecosystems, are topics that are treated within the marine ecosystems program.

This section of the Environmental Education program seeks to foster student interest in understanding this unexplored area within the school curriculum, which has traditionally focused only on terrestrial ecosystems.

It’s really interesting for students to learn about species previously unknown to them, such as marine plankton, species that make aquatic ecosystems sustainable and contribute between 50-90% of the oxygen to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Conservation Program Piro-Carate: July Results

This year we started our Sea Turtle Conservation Program with a great challenge, to expand our project to the beaches of Rio Oro and Carate on the southern side of the Osa Peninsula. With an excellent group of Field Coordinators (Geri Cubero, Erick Gomez and Greivin Barroso) and Research Field Assistants (Phoebe Edge, Heidi Montez, Courtney Thomas and Carlos Garcia), under the direction of Manuel Sanchez and Guido Saborio, we have taken the challenge with great enthusiasm. We also have help from Frontier, a volunteer program based in England with whom we have a working agreement that allows these volunteers to participate in Friends of the Osa’s various research projects. It has not been an easy job, because even with the help of volunteers, we are few people to monitor over 18 km of beach. However, the commitment and effort of all participants has allowed us to record a good number of sea turtle visits to the beaches from Piro to Carate in July, the first month of the season.  Without adjusting for people-hours on each beach, Pejeperro beach was the most visited by Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) during July.  On all the beaches we see the false crawls were the most reported, which could indicate that turtles are making their first expeditions to choose their nesting sites (Fig 1). Although we do not have many reports of East Pacific Greens, or black turtles (Chelonia mydas agassizii), from what we do have, most records are from Pejeperro beach (Fig 1).

July Sea Turtle Results

Unfortunately 39% of depredated nests found in our monitoring is due to egg poaching by humans.To prevent this situation from getting worse during the rest of the season, we will need the support of local people, MINAE (the government authority in charge of enforcing conservation laws), and you.

If you’re asking yourself, “How can I help?”  here are several ways: 1) Let others know about our Sea Turtle Conservation Program and the importance of protecting sea turtles, 2) Sign up to volunteer and 3) Make a donation to allow us to continue our sea turtle conservation efforts in the southern Osa Peninsula.