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Thursday, 15 November 2007

Sea Turtle Gynecology: Volunteering with Pretoma in Costa Rica - Page 3

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.

taggingThey do agree to let us measure and tag the turtle but first the conversation turns to fishing advice. I stop paying attention. I'd like to throw a tantrum that could rival the whiniest of two year olds. Instead I silently list the reasons why people poach turtle eggs. Years of tradition and rumors of them not only making baked goods last longer, but sex as well. And of course money – a local told me a dozen turtle eggs sell for just over a dollar.

As we walk away, Kenny’s shoulders are stooped and his gait alludes to his disappointment. Tomorrow he will drag around beach wood and hammer together useless furniture to vent his frustration. No matter what we do, the poachers get to some nests before us. What’s worse is that if the MINAE, Costa Rica's forest rangers, were walking with us, like they are suppose to, they would have the power to arrest them and the nest would have been ours. But there is a lack of follow through when it comes to conservation laws, and Kenny and I walk in silence until he makes fun of me for sneaking up on a log. A few weeks ago, I was unfortunate enough to approach and try to tap what I thought was a new and unusual looking piece of driftwood. I was less than a foot away when the four meter long trunk, which was actually a crocodile, scampered into the ocean.

turtleLuckily, a sea turtle saves me from Kenny’s relentless ridicule. She is clumsily plowing over sticks and branches. After some awkward maneuvering she uses her back flippers to dig a nest. This is my favorite part to watch. Despite all of her difficulties traversing land, digging in the sand is done with graceful movements that are surprisingly dainty. I settle in behind the turtle, digging an extra channel into her nest. When she’s ready, I place a gloved hand under her cloaca and wait for the first egg to fall.eggs I join the turtle in a trance-like state and count the eggs just before placing them in my bag. Bats chirp as they circle above us.  Kenny and I take the 146 eggs back to our hatchery. Kenny digs a nest with delicate movements that rival the sea turtles’. He glares at me when I tell him he’s a good turtle mother. After he’s done we’ll eat dinner and take a quick nap before our second patrol at two am.

It’s silly and ridiculously idealistic but I can’t help but think of our nests as reverse sand castles, temporary homes to some of my favorite treasure. My thoughts are interrupted when I hear Kenny grunting as he punches down the sand. He sounds a lot like the female turtles as they loudly exhale and use their entire bodies to pack the sand above their eggs. He really is a good sea turtle mother.


Details: All of the photos of turtles and hatchlings are Olive Ridleys. I worked on the Pacific side of Costa Rica with Pretoma. Their website can be found here:

©Noël Dunn

(Page 3 of 3)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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