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Thursday, 15 November 2007

Sea Turtle Gynecology: Volunteering with Pretoma in Costa Rica

Written by  Noel Dunn
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Spreading a final handful of maggots in the sand, I sit back to survey the remnants of a nest. In front of me there are two worm-filled corpses, a pile of 11 eggs that remain unopened and a large pile of broken shells. I walk over to the shade and pick up four baby sea turtles that are barely alive. 114 of their siblings hatched last night and these guys couldn't make it out of the nest.


turtlesSpreading a final handful of maggots in the sand, I sit back to survey the remnants of a nest. In front of me there are two worm-filled corpses, a pile of 11 eggs that remain unopened and a large pile of broken shells. I walk over to the shade and pick up four baby sea turtles that are barely alive. 114 of their siblings hatched last night and these guys couldn't make it out of the nest. One is deformed, two have fungus growing on them, and the fourth is barely moving. It’s controversial to release them in the ocean because it’s unlikely they would have made it on their own, but the alternative seems cruel. I place each three meters from the ocean because some scientists believe their initial walk on the sand is how they imprint or remember which beach to return to if and when they lay eggs. Each one moves with a renewed sense of energy towards the lightest horizon, which is conveniently, always the ocean.

campWhen all four have disappeared into the waves, I walk back to the sun-baked and foul-smelling eggs that didn’t hatch. I rip open each one and poke around the partially cooked yolks for eyes and I examine the fetuses for parasites and mark down my findings. After reburying everything, I return to camp - a fairly extensive shack made out of beech wood, rope, duck tape and tarps – advertising what I’m guessing is a failed ¨Tire Kingdom.¨ As I enter camp, the other American on the project is groggily moving from his bed to a hammock.

¨Hey, have the mud wasps built a nest in your underwear yet?¨

I say no and he assures me it’s something to look forward to. Although he stops mid-sentence to sniff my sand and egg yolk covered body. He looks a bit disgusted as he registers the smell of dead baby sea turtles.

On the way to the shower, I smile at my surroundings. Our shack lacks walls and an iguana is sitting comfortably at our dinner table. Someone evidently spilled something in the kitchen because the hermit crabs have formed a thick moving rug on our sand carpeting. The hermit crabs are a great form of permaculture and provide an amazing cleanup service for spills, leftovers and compost – the only drawback is that they tickle both under and over your feet. Just past three banana trees and a dozen purple and orange crabs is our well. crabI sweat as I pull up a bucket of water. It’s during this chore everyday that I think living a Robinson Crusoe-esque lifestyle isn’t as romantic as it sounds. But then I dunk a bowl into the water and pour it over my head. This is a simple and remarkably satisfying shower - maybe I could be Mrs. Crusoe.

It’s three in the afternoon. I’ve had two, two-hour long naps since midnight and if I take another one, my sleep count will be up to six hours for the day. But just as I'm relaxing into a hammock, my coworker interrupts and plops a baby sea turtle in my hand. turtleAnother nest is hatching and he’s trying to show me the new way we’re measuring their carapaces or shells. It’s impossible to focus. Olive Riley’s have large, dark circles around their eyes and the little guy squirming in my hand keeps lifting his head and tilting it to the side. On average, we release 100 of these guys everyday and I fall in love with each one.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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