When I saw my first nesting leatherback during night patrol I was in awe of this ancient creature laying its eggs against the sky’s Milky Way, nature’s firework display of bioluminescence bursting off the crashing waves. Our work as Earthwatch volunteers with the January, 2019 Costa Rican Leatherbacks expedition included night patrol, morning beach sweeps and hatchery duty.
We are paired with a research biologist for our nightly beach patrols. Courtney and I had the great fortune to find two leatherbacks one night. The first turtle was digging her nest in a vulnerable spot so we decided to relocate the nest. To do this, I laid on my stomach and held a bag under the turtles tail to catch the billiard ball-sized eggs, dropping in to the 3 foot deep nest chamber. My arms began to shake and my muscles twitched as the bag filled to capacity-now so heavy, I could barely hold on. Courtney was right there to help me pull the bag out from under this thousand pound prehistoric creature. The turtle began to camouflage her clutch (which we were now burying in a more ideal location).
The research station’s hatchery (a fenced beach enclosure set back from the water) was ‘boiling’ with activity. Watching both leatherback and olive ridley hatchlings emerge from their nests was mesmerizing. The surface of the sand starts to bubble and a head peaks out, then two, then five, then dozens of tiny sea turtle flippers reaching, swimming up through the sand. They topple and scramble over one another in a frenzy. If the babies hatch during the day, we put them in a sandy bucket covered with a wet towel and will release them to the ocean during the night when the temperature decreases.
On morning beach patrol we walk a 6 mile stretch looking for hatching or nesting activity from the night before.
Earthwatch volunteer expedition, Costa Rican Sea Turtles, is based at the Leatherback Trust research station located on the Pacific Ocean shore, inside the boundaries of Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas in Guanacaste Province.