Leatherbacks

I guess it’s only natural that I’m the one writing this entry. I’ve always liked turtles and friends draw parallels between me and the genus a little too freely. But there is something about them that draws people to them like no other reptiles do, as evidenced by their religious significance in Polynesian culture. So on April 3rd, we arrived at Reserva Pacaure to work with Leatherback turtles, the largest of the existing species, during their nesting season. We wanted to experience a connection between these prehistoric relics and do so while improving their 1 in 1000 odds of egg-to-adulthood survival.

I started my first patrol at 11 pm under an almost full moon, the black sand beach still dark to my maladjusted eyes. The unevenness of the beach, coupled with the washed up driftwood made my first minute’s steps small and unsure. Only the constant sound of the ocean and the white of the waves kept me steady with their rhythm. About 45 minutes in, I caught up with another person on the beach, a Research Assistant sitting close to where the beach met the forest. We started talking for a couple of minutes in the dark, when she asked me how it felt. I responded with, “what?” to which she answered, “to see your first turtle,” as she leaned to the side, revealing a Leatherback a foot away. I had missed seeing this animal as big as a clown car. But now it sat there preparing her nest as those before her had been doing for nearly 200 million years. For the next hour we worked with her; measuring, relocating the eggs, and camouflaging the tracks—-but mostly just connecting with the experience. I watched her return to her element and continued my patrol.

As the night wore on, my steps gained confidence, getting used to the slope of the sand and eager to come across another sighting. Shooting stars and fireflies broke into the monotony of the trek and made me feel nature was encouraging those who tried to aid her. At 4 am, walking back to the lodges, we came across another nesting turtle. We worked with her till nearly 6 am, the sun rising as she finally made her way back to the ocean, enabling a rare site—seeing a Leatherback by day.

Since my first night, Mari and I have gone out patrolling nightly, doing what we could to help, and feeling closer to nature in the process. We were scheduled to leave on April 10th, Good Friday, but have extended our stay through Easter. So while the rest of Central America will be observing Semana Santa, we’ve opted for a subtler communion, right here with the turtles.

Posted: April 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Costa Rica | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »