Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles

Building a Sea Turtle Hatchery

Blogpost written by Marina Garrido, Sea Turtle Volunteer

As a sea turtle volunteer, I have spent the last few weeks here in the Osa constructing the turtle hatchery for the upcoming nesting season. Each year, the hatchery is moved to a new location along the beach in order to relocate nests in an area with “clean” sand which was not used in the previous nesting season.  The process is long and tough and requires many hours and many hands, but the end product is so rewarding that the work is well worth it.

We begin the project by moving barriers from the old hatchery to the site of the new one. The barriers are made of bamboo, which protects the hatchery and the nests inside from the large high tide waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, group builds up the outer walls of the hatchery

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, volunteers help build the outer walls of the hatchery

Next we begin the important step of sifting the sand one meter down (about the depth of a sea turtle nest). This step is important for removing debris and obstacles from the sand where new nests will be relocated. Sifting of the sand is the longest, most labor intensive, process in the creation of a new hatchery. Once all of the sand has been sifted and placed in the new hatchery location, it is time to make the surface flat and compact again.

The next step is to fill hundreds of sacs with sand in order to reinforce the outer barrier of the hatchery fence, which provides protection of the sea turtle nests against predators. Predators of sea turtle nests include dogs,  coatis, vultures and more.

 

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Sandbags line the outside of the hatchery for reinforcement

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Sandbags line the outside of the hatchery for reinforcement

 

We then build the structure using newly cut recycled bamboo and cover it with nets to further protect it from predators. The final step is to section off the inside of the hatchery into a grid system which allows us to identify every nest inside. These codes from the grid system make it easier for us to track and predict when the nests will hatch.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Closing up sandbags to keep the structure sturdy

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Closing up sandbags to keep the structure sturdy

As you can see, building and maintaining the hatchery each season is hard work. Thankfully, we have the help of volunteers and school groups that come to help move the process along. It is fun work done along a beautiful beach! Not to mention, we get fresh coconut water during our breaks!

 

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Group from Colegio Puerto Jimenez joins Osa to build the hatchery

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Group from Colegio Puerto Jimenez joins Osa Conservation to build the hatchery

 

Special thanks to Colegio Puerto Jimenez for their help in building the hatchery. To learn more about how you can get involved with our Sea Turtle Volunteer Program, please check out this link below:

Saving Sea Turtles

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.

Sea Turtles

Birth of a Sea Turtle: Notes from the beach

A Green sea turtle nests on Pejeperro Beach

With the same clumsiness as their mothers, the small reptiles descend slowly down the sloped beach. One by one they go, leaving behind a trail of life in the sand.

Seven weeks ago, after a journey spanning hundreds, perhaps thousands of kilometers, an adult olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) pushed through the foaming waves on Pejeperro beach in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, to begin an ancient, unique and exquisite journey.

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Sea Turtles

Our Trip to Pejeperro Beach: Patrolling for turtles

Osa Conservation staff taking a break during patrol training

This week, we had the pleasure of conducting our first Osa Conservation staff training for sea turtle patrols. The event was very productive for everyone, reinforcing knowledge for some, and training others for the first time.

For me, the most interesting part of it all was the fieldwork, where for the first time this season, all of the land conservation staff, volunteers, Max, Manuel Sánchez, and myself (a total of 13 people) conducted a turtle patrol of Pejeperro Beach. We left the Piro Biological Station at 7:30 pm with our flashlights and our fieldwork equipment, and after we walked all the way to sector 10, we encountered our first nesting turtle that was just beginning to excavate her nest. While she was digging, Manuel demonstrated to us the data collection process, including tagging turtles, marking tracks, performing basic health assessments, and other things. After making these techniques clear to everyone, we were eager to perform the tasks ourselves.

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Marine Conservation, Science and Research

Osa Conservation Supports Research in Golfo Dulce: So Many Sea Turtles!

Side by side, you can begin to see the characteristics that visibly differentiate the three sea turtle species we documented inside Golfo Dulce.

When we began our research, nobody expected us to find very many sea turtles inside Golfo Dulce — most sea turtle activity was thought to occur on the Pacific side of the Osa Peninsula. It turned out that chelonids were the most frequently seen family of animals, accounting for 38 percent of our total sightings. Discovering such significant numbers of sea turtles was one of our most important findings. Sadly, fishermen with many years of experience in Golfo Dulce say the sea turtles there have declined at least 30 percent in recent years.

Jorge and I documented three species: Pacific Black sea turtles, still commonly referred to as “Greens” (Chelonia mydas agassizii), Olive Ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) and Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata). Locals also reported seeing near-extinct Pacific Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) inside Golfo Dulce. That’s four endangered species of sea turtles utilizing the embayment. Amazing!

Our biseasonal data show Golfo Dulce to be a year-round feeding and breeding area for endangered Green sea turtles. We logged over a hundred sightings of them between both surveys. This species, by far the most common, was usually observed in the upper regions of the gulf resting at the sea surface. But we also documented Green sea turtles mating in all four quadrants of the inlet, so their use of the fiord waters appears widespread.

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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

Cleaning the Beach for Sea Turtles

August 7th represented the second Day of Beach Cleaning along sea turtle nesting beaches in Osa.  With the participation of around 150 volunteers from the community, local hotels, personnel from Osa Conservation Area, Frontier volunteers and Osa Conservation employees, we were able to collect waste along 12 km of beaches, from Carate to Matapalo.

Starting off early in the morning to take advantage of low tide, the groups divided up throughout the area with plastic bags, gloves, sun screen and lots of water.  The day of cleaning continued past noon, when the participants came together at the Piro Biological Station to have lunch and end with a soccer game.

As with every year, the majority of the waste found on the beaches was plastic bottles and pieces of Styrofoam, which shows us how businesses and consumers still have to work towards being more environmentally responsible.

We hope that this clean-up will help the sea turtles in their difficult journey from the sea to the beach and back again, a journey that, although short, implies a great physical effort on their part which they undertake with the goal of conserving their species.

Thank you to the following participants:
Lapa Rios, Bosque del Cabo, El Remanso, the Bellanero family, Hacienda Rio Oro,  ISEAMI, Lookout Inn, Finca Exótica, Luna Lodge, La Leona Lodge, ACOSA, FRONTIER, the community and Asdrúbal Cordero.

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Double Your Donation to Osa Sea Turtle Conservation

Today SEE Turtles launched its effort to raise money for Friends of the Osa’s annual Sea Turtle Festival.  SEE Turtles is a project of the Ocean Foundation that promotes conservation tourism by acting as a resource for travelers to connect with volunteer programs or to donate to organizations protecting sea turtles and educating communities.  Through the matching fund launched today, you can donate to support FOO’s Sea Turtle Festival in 2011.

Kids present a performance on sea turtle life cycle

Children perform the life cycle of sea turtles at the Second Annual Osa Sea Turtle Festival

This past September, Friends of the Osa’s Second Annual Sea Turtle Festival was successful in attracting children and their families to the Osa Peninsula’s Carate Beach to learn about sea turtle species, like Olive Ridleys, Green Turtles, Hawksbills and Leatherbacks.  This annual sea turtle festival has been an effective way to develop community interaction and create local understanding about the issue of sea turtle egg poaching.  Through activities, presentations, and contests for children, Friends of the Osa not only spreads awareness of our work but we also take preventative action by ensuring people don’t participate in sea turtle disturbance and habitat destruction.

SEE Turtles covers administrative costs so that 100% of your donation goes towards our 2011 sea turtle festival that educates the community about sea turtle conservation.  The goal of this matching fund is to raise $2,000.  Because sea turtle conservation is an important aspect of FOO’s mission to protect the globally significant biodiversity of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, we encourage you to check out the SEE Turtles website to learn more about SEE Turtles and sea turtle conservation beyond the Osa Peninsula.

Volunteers working with sea turtles on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Volunteers working with sea turtles on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Remember that Friends of the Osa also operates a sea turtle conservation program that is open to volunteers from July to December every year.  Volunteer to help save the Osa’s endangered sea turtles!

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

Let´s have a bad joke!

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

What turtle has the best eye sight?

A SEE TURTLE!

And that´s why it´s so important that we make sure on night patrols that we spot the ladies before they spot us…the last thing we want to do is scare them back to the sea. A good turtle detective just doesn´t do that. An Olive Ridley could have swum thousands of miles to get to this specific beach  which is why here at Friends of the Osa we do what we can to ensure we have minimal impact on beach patrols- especially at night. Females can be deterred from nesting and the hatchlings’ important journey to the sea can be disrupted just by the presence of white lights. For this reason, we only use red light on the beach. Sea turtles, like many other reptiles, don´t actually have the color red within their visual spectrum so it means we can work safe in the knowledge that they don´t feel like a criminal fleeing from the scene of a crime!

Volunteering with sea turtles on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

We´ve just said goodbye to the lovely Brandy and Nick who were volunteering  with us for 2 weeks, staying at Finca Exotica in Carate. Their second day it was unnecessary to use ANY  artificial light to spot a turtle as on an afternoon stroll to the lagoon at around 3:30pm, we  discovered a solitary uptrack and on the top…an Olive Ridley covering a nest! It was a beautiful day anyway so this just completely topped it off. Most sea turtles come up during the night to lay their eggs as they feel it´s safer but this individual obviously had other ideas! It was a real treat to see her in natural light.

Of course, night patrols aren´t always a walk in the park.  We are in the peak of the rainy season, and it’s not uncommon for there to be times when the rain has penetrated every ounce of clothing, sand has made its way into every crevice you never thought possible and throughout the patrol, one can´t help but feel like you’re on the losing side in World War III against the elusive sand flea. But the second you catch a glimpse of a turtle, watching each egg drop into the nest she created ever so carefully, we are reminded of how much energy has been invested in this process and just how vital our efforts are to protect nesting sea turtles. Our efforts here on the Osa seem so small- but nest by nest, day by day, the data we gather can be interpreted and contributed to the global effort for sea turtle conservation, and together we can make a difference.  Besides, who wouldn´t care to swap the office for this?