A few years ago I worked for a small non-profit organization in Costa Rica. When I first arrived I was sent out to visit the various projects the organisation was involved in. One of these projects was turtle conservation over on the Caribbean coast. A project which deals with Leatherback turtles, the largest of the Marine turtles which can grow to be over 2m (6.4ft). As luck would have it the nesting season had started not too long prior to my arrival and I was told to make my way to the village of Gandoca and acquaint myself with the project there.
I only had one day and showed up unannounced on the beach. Unfortunately the local staff and volunteers were very busy and there was no space for me to spend the night with one of the patrols looking for turtles. As I was going to be around for a year I was asked if I didn’t mind coming back some other time. I started to leave the research station when it was already dark and the first patrols were on the beach. Volunteers patrol the beach in small groups with a local biologist in 3 shifts of 4 hours. They cannot wear insect repellent or drink any alcohol, must wear long dark clothes and shade their torch-light with a red-filter to not disturb the turtles. I walked a little way along the beach and just as I was about to turn onto the path that headed away from the beach I saw the red-lights of a patrol nearby. The biologist who was with them called me over.
“You want to see a turtle?” he asked excitedly. I came running and there, in front of me, was a female Leatherback turtle laying her eggs. The volunteers were already busy collecting data and eggs. Measuring her, checking the number on the tag she had on her leg, taking a tissue sample… Depending on where the turtles lay their eggs the nest may be left as is, it may be moved to a more secure spot (away from erosion and scavenging animals) or it may even be moved to a hatchery which is guarded by other volunteers 24/7. In this particular case the nest was too close to the entrance to the beach and the eggs were going to be moved to the newly built hatchery.
The emotion I felt is hard to describe, I wouldn’t call it spiritual but it’s certainly an experience which will stay with me for a very long time. I sat there and watched the turtle in her trance and the volunteers busily doing their job for a long time until she filled up her nest with sand (the eggs, unbeknown to her, having been extracted for relocation). I watched her returning to the sea leaving the next generation to look after itself and finally left the beach myself, in awe, once again, with the ways of nature.
I have since had the opportunity to see a number of turtles lay eggs. Every experience is different but I must admit, it’s an experience I relish every time and one which I doubt I will ever tire in enjoying.
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