I just had the new top experience of my life. I got to be with the endangered Leatherback turtle as she gave birth in Costa Rica, and not only be with her but be the one who caught her eggs as she laid them one at a time, all 72 of them.
Beginning our turtle (Tortuga) patrol walk at 8 pm, we walk in 4 hour shifts until 4 am up and down the beach in our assigned sectors. We walk in the pitch dark, except for the occasional lightning strike, following our Costa Rican “leader”, a turtle expert. We walk one behind the other in complete silence. The leader is looking for turtle tracks in the sand, which looks like a giant dark trail. Most of your 4hr walks you won’t come across anything except passing by poachers. The reason we patrol the beaches for turtles laying eggs is to get there before poachers. Poachers steal the eggs and sell them, endangering them even more. Whoever gets to the turtle first, civilly gets the eggs. We collect the eggs from the endangered species and bring them to the hatchery where they are guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by volunteers in 6 hour shifts, and nests are checked every 20 minutes to see if any have hatched. I am lucky in that on my first walk I saw a Hawksbill turtle (3 feat by 2) lay eggs, observing from the patrol group before us. On my 2nd patrol, my leader found the Leatherback just as she was coming out of the water. We patiently waited about 20 minutes as she found her spot and dug her nest. It was beautiful watching her push aside the black sand, alternating her strong flippers. She’d push the sand with one big scoop and then turn it over to carefully cup the sand and drop it out. Once she was ready, she goes into a trance. This is when me and Michaela’s leader, Daivi told us it was time. Michaela and I held hands tightly as we approached her, happy tears in our eyes. Daivi then placed the bag beneath her and told me in Spanish what to do. Through gesture I understood what I had been chosen to do. I crouched down, head first within an inch of her tail and held the bag to catch the eggs. She smelled like sea, even more enhanced once it started to rain. Daivi place her left flipper on my forearm and she curled around it, as if she was almost holding onto me. She took inhales that almost sounded like a dinosaur but more at a softer tone. I gently stroked her surprisingly soft tail, almost like the wrinkled gentle hand of a grandmother. I hold my inclined crouched position for about 25 minutes, my shoulder muscles shaking. When she started to lay the smaller, yolkless eggs I knew she was almost finished. We pulled the bag up out of the hole she dug and as she used her strong flippers to cover the nest we measured her. She was 6 feet by 3.5 feet, small for a Leatherback that can be up to 8ft long. Michaela and I used our red head lamps to take in the moment and observe her. We could see her blinking her beautiful big eyes. We wanted to stay with her until she was back in the sea but Daivi said, “Vamanos” (Let’s go). Thunder in the distance, we walked again in the darkness, minus using our red head lamps at times to avoid tripping over coconuts and tree debris. We finally reached the hatchery where Daivi dug a replica of the Leatherback turtles “boot” shaped nest, place all 72 eggs in, the yolkless ones last and covered it with 8 ft balanced sand that we dug earlier. If they want females, they are buried in the sun and if they want to affect males, they are buried in the shade.
Costa Rica – La Tortuga Feliz
“Pura Vida” by Lisa, Minnesota, USA , June 20,2014