Saturday, July 21, 2012

National Geographic Live: Witnessing Birth of Sea Turtles

Never in my life have I seen a living sea turtle, needless to say witnessing a mother sea turtle giving birth, except in Animal Planet or National Geographic Channel, but then, we saw it! And for 96 times on our first night as volunteer of Asociación Salvemos Las Tortugas de Parismina (ASTOP),  with the task to protect the endangered sea turtles by patrolling with local turtle guide at midnight until 4am!

Set in Northern Carribean, a small town with only around 500 inhabitants and surrounded by jungle rivers on one side and Carribean sea on the other side, Parismina is only accessible by boat and is the nesting ground of three kinds of sea turtles, including green turtle, leatherback and hawksbill sea turtle. Well, July is one of the peak month for nesting of green turtles and we are on time.

No wonder it's said to be the wettest place in Costa Rica, the village roads are covered with dark sand and water. And it rains everyday.

We took a bus in San Jose at the Caribe terminal to Siquirres, which took us almost 2.5 hours, had a short walk for 5 minutes before getting on another bus to Cano Blanca . A good 2.5 hours along banana plantations, we finally reached the pier. Then we waited for a small boat for 18. In 15 minutes, we arrived Parismina, finally.

Being a volunteer cost us US$75 each (US$35 for registration and US$10 daily for participation with a minimum of 5 days, but we asked for 4). Then we have a choice of home staying (which cost US$27 per person per night) with villagers or camping. The camp site managed by Alex, was quite nice, costing around US$5 per night, per person, and there are cabins too. Since no one staying in the campsite and it was raining all the time, we finally settled down in the cabin. Alex got us bed linen, fan, stove, gas, cutlery, dishes, plates, cup, unchained the fridge and we got the long abandoned kitchen and our room nicely setup.

At the ASTOP office, we got a short briefing, a set of notes and was told to patrol at 1200-0400 that night. Two local girls walked us around the small village and we had our own time thereafter.

The village got a lot of coconut but looks like everything were brought from outside. Food are extremely expensive! A pack of half kilo frozen chicken cost almost HK$80! We finally settled for some eggs. one onion, some tomatoes, some really artificial sausage and some rice.

After having dinner, we took a nap and headed for our first night of patrol.

It was raining heavily. We arrived at the patrol station almost 15 minutes ahead. There were already 2 people there, Miguel and Jennifer. Then 2 more guys came along.

We followed Miguel along the way. We had a really long walk along the dark soft beach, they prefer walking without light or turned on their red light torch once in a while.

I was holding Adley's hand tight as I was not used to the darkness, walking in haste and occasionally kicked on some woods along the beach.

It was almost 1.5 hour south before we met Jennifer and her partner again. They found a sea turtle! The trace was like tires on the sand, clear parallel lines of flaps moving upwards towards the shore. They was discussing in Spanish and we didn't get anything. We stood there waiting under the rain while dozing off standing and getting chilled.

Then Miguel asked us to move forward, and there she started! We all stand behind the mother turtle and Jennifer was kneeling on the sand, crawling down to catch her eggs in the arm length deep hole, with gloves and plastic bag ready.

This green sea turtle made a nest in the sand by her flips and when she thinks its deep enough, she started to lay eggs. 

Because we cannot use flashlight, we cannot take photos, but the following youtube was quite the same as what we saw.

Mother turtles might crawl up the beach and return to the ocean right away if she thinks the environment is not most appropriate, like having dogs around, human with strong perfume or mosquito repellents. Her hearing is excellent but shortsighted, hence, we are advised to wear dark clothes, refrain from using perfume nor mosquito repellents and no photographs nor video. But green turtles have an instinct to return to their own birth place to nest their eggs. Amazing!

The eggs comes one by one in varies pace. We were standing right next to her, at her back, seeing the eggs coming out. And there were 96 of them!

Jennifer and her partner took the eggs to the ASTOP guarded nesting ground, to have the eggs on watch, so as to avoid dogs and poachers. While we stayed with Miguel waiting and overseeing the mother turtle returning to the ocean before we go. Since green turtles are considered local delicacy but illegal for hunting. to make sure she is safe, we stayed to make sure she went back to the ocean.

Then our guide grasped me to somewhere nearby, while Adley watching over the mother turtle. There was another bigger one! But she walked up and returned to the water again.

We returned to the patrol base and on our way, discovered another turtle trace.

Mother turtle was already gone but our guide managed to find another pile of eggs. There were 85 of them.

Our guide carefully put them in a plastic bag with gloves and we took them to the guarded hatching ground, by burning deep into the sand.

That was a fruitful night and we returned all wet for another cold water shower and good sleep.

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