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Help Endangered Sea Turtles

Baby Leatherback

Baby Leatherback Turtle

In June of 2008, my wife and I traveled to Costa Rica with a group of High School students to work with a non-profit group that is trying to save Sea Turtles.  There are seven species of Sea Turtles, five of which can be found on the beaches in the Gulf.  All seven of the species are on the Endangered Species List.  We traveled to a small strip island off Limon, Costa Rica, called Parismina.  It is a community of very poor people.  Our students were very fortunate, in that they were able to spend several days in the community and interact with these generous people.  We had booked the trip through a Costa Rican group of educators that had partnered with an environmental group (Save the Turtles) whose goal was to help this community economically and in turn have them help save the Sea Turtles that used their beaches to lay their turtle eggs.  In the past, people of this area hunted and used  the turtle eggs as a source of income.  To many people of the area, they are a delicacy that they will gladly pay for.  By paying these hunters to patrol the beaches at night to protect the eggs, the number of eggs that hatched was greatly increased.  In this area, the principle Sea Turtle is the Leatherback.  Although there are also Green‘s and Hawksbills.

The idea is to patrol the beaches at night.  This is when it is most likely to find an adult sea turtle coming on shore to dig a nest and lay it’s eggs.  The Leatherback’s are huge animals (for a turtle).  Our students were fortunate in that on one of their nights, while we helped patrol the beaches, a four foot sea turtle came ashore.  We were able to watch her dig a nest and lay between 40 and 50 eggs.  A researcher that was with us told us that the female, once she begins digging the nest in the sand with her flipper shaped limbs, is pretty much in a trance of sorts and is unaware that we are with her.  To be careful not disrupt the process, only a few of us at a time would come up in the darkness behind her and watch the process close up.  The nest is dug between 3 and 4 feet down.  The soft, wet, leather-like eggs are then laid (dropped!), followed by the turtle taking great care to cover them up and leveling an large are around the nest as to hide it with her flippers.

Sea Turtle Nursery

As the eggs are being laid, the researcher collected them and placed them into a bag.  The eggs were then taken back to a nursery, where a nest is dug and they are carefully placed.  A protective ‘cage’ is then placed around the top of the nest to discourage predators from digging them up.  Sixty days later, the babies hatch out, climb out of the nest to the beach surface and make a bee line for the water.  It’s a dangerous sprint!  Predators (like sea gulls) start a feeding frenzy.  Since most all hatch at the same time, the mere swarm of sprinting baby sea turtles help confuse the predators enough so that some make it to the water.  Once in the water, the peril isn’t over as there are predators there also.  So, in the end, a precious few will make it to adulthood.

Baby Sea Turtle Tracks

The ‘Tire Tracks’ in the picture above are actually baby sea turtle tracks.  Again, we were fortunate to come across a nest that had just hatched out in the middle of the day outside of the protected nursery.  Evidently, this female had come onshore and laid her eggs undetected. The Baby Sea Turtles were not as fortunate.  The hot sun, obstacles on the beach and predators had spelled the demise of many of the young.

Natural Obstacle

You can see (above) all the tracks on the nest side of the drift wood where the sea turtles were trapped until they would be eaten or lucky enough to find their way around the end. The students ‘helped’ the few living babies we found make it to the water.  But after being exposed to the heat of the sun for so long, they did not appear to be all that healthy.

The Sea Turtle is an important part of the both the beach ecology as well as the ocean.  The Leatherback eats the dangerous Box Jellyfish that kill fish (and sometime man) with it’s powerful venom.  The Sea Turtle can live for up to 80 years and may migrate hundreds, if not thousands of miles across the ocean.  They (the seven species) have become endangered for many reasons;  Harvesting of adults and eggs, Destruction of nesting habitat, Accidental drowning in commercial fishing nets,  Waste (like fish nets) trapping them in the ocean and the beach, and Global Warming.  Of late, hundreds Sea Turtles died as a result of BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

How to Help

There is something simple that we can doWe all use search engines (like Google) almost daily in our lives.  If you use GoodSearch instead of Google, they will donate half of their profit to the non-profit of your choice (about a penny per search).  They’re a good search engine, powered by Yahoo.  When you go to their page, you can specify the non-profit group you would like the profits to go to.  Go ahead, give it a try. You may end up saving a sea turtle!

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