Greetings from Parismina, Costa Rica! It has been an amazing first week here on the Caribbean coast. I am currently volunteering at a sea turtle conservation program through the International Volunteer Headquarters organization and we are working with Leatherbacks, the largest species of sea turtle. Leatherback sea turtles are considered the most critically endangered species of sea turtles as they are killed for their meat and their eggs for eating purposes. Parismina is an exceptionally small and rural village that is very difficult to get to. There are about 400 people that live here, all dirt paths, no cars, electricity is limited and I am living with a family that speaks no english in a small shack with two bedrooms and a small kitchen/sitting area. It’s been quite the adventure so far.
Every year, Leatherbacks come back to their natal beach in Parismina to lay their eggs from March to November. Unfortunately, poachers steal the turtles and their eggs to sell on the black market for profit. Although this practice is illegal, it is hard to enforce without the help of the local community’s participation. Here, we are working alongside “Save the Turtles of Parismina” which is a community based, non profit, conservation organization. Their objective is to protect sea turtles from poaching while providing an alternative economy to poaching in the Caribbean community of Parismina.
As a volunteer, I have been working alongside the local turtle guides. These guides are truly dedicated to protect the sea turtles here and it has been inspiring to work with them every day and night. On nightly patrols which are from 8 pm until 4 am we split up into groups and cover about 3-4 miles in length of beach. During these patrols we look for tracks, nests, and if we are lucky we will find a nesting Leatherback. Once we find a nest we gather all of the eggs, count them and carefully transfer them back to our hatchery so that they will not be dug up by predators and poachers. I have learned how to identify the Leatherback tracks in the sand and figure out where there are nests due to the markings in the sand because they are such large animals. Tasks during the days include monitoring the hatchery, cleaning the beach of debris, safeguarding the hatchlings on their first journey to the sea, and participating in nest exhumations.
The scariest part of these night patrols is the fact that we are primarily there to scare off poachers. The local guides tell us that the majority of poachers are more scared of us than we are scared of them because they are doing something illegal but I can’t help myself from thinking of all the horror stories I’ve heard about poachers in the past including the sea turtle volunteer that was captured and brutally killed by a group of poachers while on a night patrol on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica last year…It is impossible for us to know who and who isn’t a poacher and if they are dangerous or not so every time we come across a group of men wearing dark clothes with no flashlights on the beach at 1 o’clock in the morning my adrenaline is through the roof!!
Posted by Chase M.
Chase is a Summer, 2014 Intern at the National Marine Life Center. He is pursuing a degree in Environmental Studies at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, UT.