Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interesting facts about sea turtles and ASTOP, Costa Rica

ASTOP office
We had a good summer week in Parismina, Costa Rica, working as volunteers at ASTOP (Asociacion Salvemos las Tortugas de Parismina, or Save the Turtles of Parismina) to help sea turtles in the natural reserve.

Here are some interesting facts about sea turtles and ASTOP (with reference to the ASTOP website and volunteer briefing/notes).

1) Every year, Leatherback, Green and Hawksbill turtles come to Barra de Parismina, Costa Rica, to lay their eggs on the Parismina beach from March to October. Poachers steal the turtles and their eggs to sell on the black market for profit. For instance, green turtle with their meat sold at the price of US$10/kg in the black market, used to be captured, tied up and carried around the village.  This is illegal but local were used to that until a group of young people from the local community decided to do something.

2) In 2001, a group of local teenagers who could not bear the fact that sea turtles and their eggs caught and collected illegally by poachers, started something to make their village a difference.  These youngsters started to parol at night while the leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles come to Barre de Parismina Costa Rica to lay eggs on the Parismina beach in the hatching season. They started the Association to protect sea turtles, developed volunteer plus homestay program and also arrange educational visit program of tertiary students from the US (charging three times more than volunteers) which not only finance the project, but also improve economy of the village as a whole, plus providing activities for village children.   Volunteers from all over the world came to help with the night watch, guard the hatching ground and learn about sea turtles preservation, while stimulate commercial activities of local, for instance buying food in the stores and paying for homestay or camping in the village.  ASTOP effort gradually gained support from their fellow villagers.
The night guard reporting cabin

3) Leatherback is the largest of all species of marine turtles. They can exceed 540kg and their eggs are most desirable, with the general belief that they have aphrodisiac power.

4) Green turtles are hunted for the meat and their eggs. The beaches between Parismina and Tortuguero in Costa Rica are believed to be the most important Atlantic nesting ground of these turtles.

5) Hawksbill are often hunted for their shells, which are the source of 'tortoiseshell' once prized for making accessories and eyeglass frames.  Luckily, it is now forbidden.

6) Turtles are reptiles, cold blooded and need to breath out of water for oxygen.  During hatching season, they will stay in the water surrounding the hatching beach and wait till dark before heading the beach to lay eggs.  Hence, some poachers will tie the turtles' legs when their appear on the beach with a long rope and floating ball and wait till the next day in looking for sea turtles in the ocean.

7) Sea turtles always have tears in their eyes. In fact their eyes are always secreting mucus to regulate salt water level. If baby turtles unable to develop such function, they will die in sea water.

8) Female turtles do not nest in consecutive years. They typically skip one or seven years before returning.  So, it's not easy for them!
Sea turtle footprints on the beach

9) It is believed that green turtles return to the very same beach where they were born.

10) If female sea turtles come ashore but cannot find a satisfactory spot to lay her eggs, she will crawl back into the ocean and try to come ashore at a later time.

11) Sea turtles will leave their eggs on the beach and only return for another nesting. Some might nest up to ten time per season.

12) The sex of hatching depends on the temperature around their nests. The proportion of male hatching exceed that of females when the temperature is between 23.C to 29.C and reverse when the temperature is between 29.C and 37.C

The relocated hatching area with volunteers on duty
13) Only one in every 1,000 to one in every 10,000 baby sea turtles will reach reproduction age. Reproduction age is between 15 and 50 years depending on the species.

14) Sea turtle babies will wait for their batch of eggs of the same nesting to climb out of the sand. Staying together gives the stronger ones better chance to survive.
Baby sea tutles nest are arm-length deep, it's not easy for the sea turtles to climb out.  They need to encounter this first challenge in life before they have a better chance to survive in the even more challenging ocean.

15) These babies will be dehydrate and they need to drink a lot of water when they successfully crawl towards the ocean. Some might dry up along their way.

16) These babies have all kinds of natural enemies on the beach, including birds, crabs and ants. Not only poachers, dogs would be digging their eggs and human on the beach might be stepping over their nest, making the sand compact and hence, they suffocate before even climbing out. Or even people might be stepping on them, when they crawl out, without knowing - they are really tiny when newborn.

17) Despite all the threats, in fact, poachers are not the main threat for turtles, but global warming and commercial fishing. Beach with temperature too high might kill the eggs, whereas fishing nets might accidentally caught sea turtle.  Unable to breath above the sea level, without fresh air, they will die.

18) To slow down global warming, we might help by consuming more local products to keep carbon emission lower.

It's definitely a good lesson to learn about these beautiful giant creatures.

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