Monday, August 27, 2012

And So the Dirty Work Begins Again...

Yesterday it rained most of the day. So it was a nice lazy day of watching Netflix (which is way better in Costa Rica, so many new movies) and catching up on sleep and paperwork.

At night we hit the beach at 8, but find the tide was too high and still increasing. So we postpone the patrol for an hour or so. Before heading back to the house, we check the hatchery to see if the nest that was brought to us had hatched. Good thing we did because there was one baby out of the nest dead and a crab hole going under the basket and into the nest. I began to dig cautiously into the crab hole hoping to remove the crab, so the nest could hatch normally. The only problem was the babies had crawled into the crab hole and the crab was nowhere to be seen.   After quick deliberation, I decided it was better to take the babies out of the nest and place them in a bucket than to leave anymore to die from the crab. We found 38 babies out of the 60 eggs and placed them in a bucket of sand and waited to release them until they were awake and ready.

An hour later, we carried the bucket of turtles out to the beach and watched as they ran for the whites of the waves.  It never ceases to amaze me how such small animals charge the waves with such force and no apparent fear! After we were sure they had made it to the water safe, we carried on with patrol not seeing a single turtle or poacher.

Today Lotti came in at 10:30 to remind me of  all the specifics of how to classify development of a turtle and gave the boys a quick lesson.

Here are the steps taken when conducting an exhumation…
  1. Dig out all the sand above the eggs and return it to the beach.
  2. Place all the eggs in the bucket and carry the bucket to the beach.
  3. Dump the bucket out.
  1. Start sorting the un-hatched eggs from the egg shells

  1. Count the hatched shells, which should match the number of babies hatched.
  2. Open all un- hatched eggs and record stage of development.
  3. Return to the hatchery to dig out another bucket of sand to ensure that all the dirty sand was touching the eggs.
  4. 2-3 days later re-fill hole with new sand.
Eggs shells being sorted and counted

Opening egg to determine development
Unfertilized egg after being in the ground for 45 days.
Stage 1A: Only sign of development is blood.

Stage 1B: Small fetal turtle
Stage 2: Fetus still half the size of a baby turtle.

Stage 3: Would have been just about ready to hatch
During our exhumation, we found one more live baby which we released after dark. We also determined that all 18 un-hatched eggs had arrived to a late stage of development and had the nest not faced so much trauma, it probably would have had a fantastic success rate.

Turtle Tracker:
Turtles Nested: 60
Eggs in the Hatchery: 3160
Babies Released: 41

Once again thank you Victor for being resident photographer. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tag -a- long

Using beach trash to relocate eggs.
After a quiet night without any nests on either patrol,  I am awoken at 4:30 AM by Victor telling me it is time to head down to Punto Coyote to help Erik with the fishery work.  The tide is finally low enough in the mornings that we can walk the 2.5 kilometers to the estuary without a problem. As we get just about a 1/2 of a kilometer away from the estuary, we are surprised to see a turtle track. We had stopped patrolling that far to the south because we hadn't had a turtle and I felt our time was better utilized patrolling where there were turtles. Anyways, we approached the nest bed and were surprised to find it still had the eggs. So Victor and I quickly collected the eggs and relocated them to a less conspicuous  area on the beach and we could pick them up later. While I was counting the eggs the mama dog shows up and begins sniffing around our newly relocated nest. Worried she might try and eat them, I call her to follow us down the beach and we find another 3 tracks. Unfortunately, all 3of them were poached, but it made me rethink our patrol schedules once again.

When we finally made it to the estuary, we still had our tag along dog. Seeing as the tide was coming in and we needed to use a boat to cross to the docks, I assumed the dog would just go home. However, I was wrong . Mama dog, still full of milk, swam all the way across the large estuary to spend time with us. As she swam, all the fishermen were watching in amazement. Once she got to the other side, she was glued to me in fear of the local dogs; who didn't seem to like having her there. She was well-behaved and stayed out of the way as we worked. We finished the data collection in just under 2 hours and then we were all, including the dog, returned to the beach.
The day's catch

Recording data
Waiting for our ride.
Miguel and his fish.
Like father, like son

The kids giving Victor a Spanish lesson.

When we got home I was so exhausted and ready for a long nap. But just as I laid down for my nap, I heard little voices. The local kids were at the house asking for help on their English homework.  I couldn't say no, so I pulled out our card table and chairs. After about an hour of English tutoring, the kids brought out books to teach us Spanish and I got an hour long Spanish vocab lesson. 

That night we went out on the beach from 10PM- 12 AM only to have all 4 of the nests laid last night poached.  It is getting very hard to stay positive when it feels like we are in a loosing battle with poachers. They have cars, motorcycles, quads and even horses; all of which are faster than us walking.

Turtle Tracker
Turtles Nested: 52
Nests in the Hatchery: 32
Eggs in the Hatchery: 3060
Babies Released: 1

Friday, August 24, 2012

Making Friends?!?!

Wednesday night after 3 days without seeing our puppy friend Hernaldo shows up for dinner carrying the little squirt. I couldn't believe it. One of the children had seen him on the street and asked him to return my puppy to me. I guess word around here travels fast! Since we knew Lotti was coming in the next day and could take her to Ana. I felt it was better to be safe than sorry, so  the little one slept in the shower so she couldn't disappear again.

That night I patrolled from 3-5AM and the only nest that was laid on the beach that night had been poached. I am getting really frustrated with the amount of poaching on this beach. As of now we have a 30% poach rate and last year when I was working on a more established project, Playa San Miguel which has been protected for over a decade, we only had 12% poached. So it is really hard to feel like every night we are losing eggs. Hopefully we will see a change as our new project becomes more established.

When I get back to the house at 5 all I want to do is sleep, but the puppy has other ideas. So I take her out to the beach and we go for a little run, which tires her out so I could get a couple extra hours of shut eye.

At 10AM Lotti arrived to help us exhume a nest that a local, Ronni, had found on the beach after dogs had gotten to it. We hadn't had much faith in the nest hatching since it had been traumatized and moved so late in its development. Since we had noticed it had started to smell, we figured it was best to get it out of the hatchery before it contaminated all our other nests with bugs. But when we dug into the nest and got a visual of the eggs it was apparent they were in the middle of hatching. So we took the one baby we saw was ready to be released and left the rest for another 48 hours to give them a chance to hatch on their own before we helped them out.

At 7:45PM we began patrol by releasing the one baby who had spend the day sleeping in a bucket of sand in a closet. She seemed pretty weak walking to the water, but once she was in the water she was swimming fast. Hopefully we will see her again in 12 years!

As soon as we were sure the baby had made it out to sea we began our normal patrols. Matt and I went to the north and Victor headed south. We walked all the way to the north end of the beach without seeing anything, but poachers. This gave us confidence there were going to be a lot of turtles because the number of poachers seems to correlate to the number of turtles.

As we returned towards the house, we see a up track, so the turtle is still present.  Matt and I were measuring the track when I saw someone come up from behind me. It was a group of 6 people from one of the local families. They stepped towards me blocking me from seeing the turtle. Feeling comfortable that I knew the group, I asked if it would be alright if I took the measurements and tagged the turtle, but they could keep the eggs. I was hoping if I had the opportunity to spend time with them they would be more likely to give me at least 1/2 of a nest.

The lady who was obviously in charge seemed hesitant, scared that we would scare the turtle before she laid. I had to ensure them that I would wait until she started laying before I would go touch the turtle. As a group, we waited as the turtle climbed to the top of the beach and begin laying her eggs. This took almost a 1/2 hour which gave us a lot of time to get to know the locals.

At first everyone was little quiet and unsure of the situation, but before long they were asking all sorts of questions about what I do, the nesting process and the babies. This is when it dawned on me, they know their beach well and how to predict when and where turtles are going to nest, but don't know much about the animal  herself.  Knowing that I began to have more confidence that maybe we could convert the poachers on this beach.

Thanks Victor for the great photos!
Once the turtle started laying, I approached her with my red light and measured and tagged her, explaining the whole process of what I was doing to the interested audience.  After we had gathered the information we needed, I looked at the group  and asked if they would be interested in splitting the nest so that we could help guarantee eggs for the future. They all stood there silently staring at me and finally someone spoke up and said "Absolutely not!" So with that I left the eggs to an unthinkable future  and walked away with hopes that maybe when they see the babies they would be more interested in conservation. But until then I will keep building on the relationships I made that night.

Here is the Turtle Tracker for Costa de Oro for today
Turtles Nested: 48
Eggs in Hatchery: 3060
Babies Release: 1
Nests in Hatchery: 32

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Puppy Kisses

I officially have my new computer and a case that should keep the moisture out  so hopefully all will be back to normal. So much has happened in the last 22 days since my last post but I will try and catch everyone up on my adventures with turtles, earthquakes, whale watching and a whole lot more. I am going to be posting the entries on the dates that I had originally written them to avoid confusion.

So here it goes...

Little puppy walking to San Miguel
Its amazing the way the world works. At the same time Ready passed away, a mother dog and her puppy showed up on our porch. We left them be hoping they might move on and find a new home that could care for them properly. However,  when we woke up the mother had left her 2 month old puppy with us and she was nowhere to be seen.  Olivia and I decided to take the puppy on a walk to the estuary to say good bye to Meadow and Alicia and thank them for all their help.

The puppy was such a trooper and was eager to follow .When we got there we all splashed around in the water for awhile before deciding to walk to Maderos, the local store in San Miguel, for some puppy food. The owner of the store, Ana, was so excited to see the puppy, she even gave it medications and puppy food. Ana also treated us to a great meal of arroz con bistec and wehad the chance to load up on the necessities- chocolate and Coca Cola. As we left to head back to Costa de Oro, Ana mentioned that she would love the puppy if we couldn't keep her.  With that in mind, we told her we would bring her the puppy on Friday if the mother hadn't shown back up.
Puppy sleeping in a bucket
after her adventurous day.

After 3.5km of walking carrying a tired puppy and all our treasures, we got back to the house only to find out that the mama dog was back and clearly wanted her baby. Mama dog and baby walked away into the sunset. Leaving Olivia and I quite sad to say good bye to another dog, but I was also ready to get back to protecting turtles full time. Which was a good thing because we had a 3 turtles that night.
The mama dog.

Stranded on a Sandbar

Everyone bare with me as I attempt to type a whole entry with just on a tablet (thank you Victor for loaning it to me)

August 19: I finally returned back to Costa de Oro and went out on patrol, the bight before I was just too torn up about losing my very special turtling dog' Ready. The patrol began at 8 PM and it was Olivia  (our volunteer from England), Hernaldo (our local who helps us when he can) and me and we had 3 nests.

  • Nest 1- We hadn't walked incredibly far when we came across the first track, there was an up track and a down track, so the turtle was long gone. I grabbed a stick and handed it to Olivia and asked if she wanted to find the eggs. She poked around a little bit before finding the eggs. However, when she began digging them up she found they were right on the surface and that the top egg had been broken. As she collected the eggs, she started showing me how soft they were. Honestly they were of the weirdest eggs I'd seen. We placed them in the backpack to be carried carefully back to the hatchery. It's going to be interesting if these babies hatch.
  • Nest 2- As we approached I could see a big group of people approaching the turtle track as well. We hurried to be the first group to the nest. It is really unfortunate, but despite the fact that it is illegal to collect turtle eggs from the beach people still do it and the policy here is whoever gets to the nest first, gets the eggs. Anyways, I was pretty determined to get the eggs, since I hadn't see a nesting turtle in days and I couldn't fathom letting the eggs be eaten or sold. So as both us and the other group sat on opposite sides of the turtle waiting for her to begin to nest. I wanted to go and talk with the group, but Hernaldo advised me to just wait. After about 10 minutes they called Hernaldo over  and they spoke for awhile before calling me over too. They asked what I had planned for the eggs and I replied I wanted the whole nest in the hatchery and that they could help release the babies. They weren't interested in fighting me for the eggs and walked on in hopes to getting to another nest before us.
    Yellow fungi
    Gooseneck Barnacles
  • Nest 3- By the time the last turtle had finished nesting, the tide was very low. So as we walked towards the house to end the patrol, when we noticed something moving close to the water's edge. When we approached it  we found that it was a turtle trying to nest. She was digging in very wet sand and every time she took a scoop of sand out with her flipper the hole would refill with water. We were pretty sure she would abort the nest and return to the ocean without laying eggs, but with poachers still on the beach we just couldn't leave her until we were sure. After about 20 minutes, she surprised us and walked all the way to the top of the beach and laid a nest. While she was laying I did the normal cursory glance over her and found she was covered in gooseneck barnacles as well as a yellow fungus looking thing on her neck. I snapped  few photos to show Lotti in fear it might be something we should be concerned about.
Fishing boat at sunrise
Part of the day's catch
Early the next morning (around 4:30AM) Victor and I walked to the south end of the beach to help Erik with the fishery stuff. It appeared to be a good night of fishing since we had a lot to measure and the captain of the boat gave us a lot of fish. After doing the normal measuring, we were going out on the PRETOMA boat to help take some water quality measurements.

Miguel teaching me how to tie
a fishing hook.

While we were waiting for Erik and the captain to get the boat ready, I made friends with the captain's 5 year old son who was tying fish hooks for his dad. I watched in amazement while he took the fishing line and wrapped it around a hook, tied it and then using a LARGE
knife cut the tail off. Miguel was so proud of it. He even taught me how to tie them and let me tell you it wasn't as easy as this 5 year old made it look.

By 8:30 we were leaving the estuary on a tiny little boat.  As we approached the open ocean, it became apparent how lucky we were to have a captain who knew the area well. We serpentined as we made out way out to sea and each time we faced a breaking wave Erik would weigh down the bow. I think   it was to keep us from capsizing.

After a few short minutes, we were on past the breakers and headed south towards the Rio Bong river mouth. Erik measured the depth before taking all the other measurements, which included water conductivity, temperature and salinity. We repeated this process for 7 different locations between Rio Bongo and Playa Bejuico. The whole trip took about 2 hours, before we were heading back towards Puerto Coyote.

Parked Boat
As we neared the mouth of the Estuary, I could hear the captain talking to Erik about something being dangerous. I kept looking around not sure was going on. Then I saw it. It was dangerous per say, more of a problem. The tide had gone out and there was a huge sandbar blocking our entry into the estuary. Unsure of what we were going to do as the boat quickly approached the sandbar. As we became beached Erik and the captain gathered their belongings and dismounted the boat. Apparently since the boat was beached and the tide would be coming it the boat would just float back to the dock. So we walked back to the docks leaving the boat behind and hoped for the best.

Sunset that night

Turtle Tracker to date
Nested Turtles: 46
Eggs in the Hatchery: 2977
Nests in the Hatchery: 31
Babies: 0

Monday, August 20, 2012

broken computer...

Last night I wrote a very long account of my lastest adventure complete with dozens of picture, but as things in Costa Rica would go the internet wasn't working. So I planned on posting it today. However I woke up without a working computer, most likely due to salty humid air. My computer will be spending the night in a bag of rice and will hopefully work in the morning. Of not I will keep an account of the happenings and publish them all asap.  Thanks everyone who has been following my posts and stay patient.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ready the Turtle Dog

Just doing his job, making sure all the babies make it to sea.
So today I bare very sad news and I am fighting back tears as I write this. My turtle dog Ready, who has made countless appearances in my blog entries and has a special place in my heart, has passed away. He was hit by a car today in Playa San Miguel just hours after I switched back to Costa De Oro. Writing about my past few days in San Miguel seem irrelevant now. So I am devoting my post today to pictures of one of the greatest dogs I have known and to the kind people (Alvaro, Meadow and Alicia) who were with him. I am going to miss him greatly!
Ready's famous doggie yoga
Just checking out the monkeys with us.

Ready using an umbrella to hide from the rain

Ready watching the sunset in San Miguel

While looking for my favorite pictures of Ready, I realized what an impact he had on most peoples time with PRETOMA. Every single volunteer  took pictures of Ready, which just further proves what a special dog he was.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Turtles, Laguna Mar and Food!

Laura and I putting eggs in the hatchery
Saturday we began patrol around 9, which was perfect because the rain had finally stopped and the tides were good for turtles. Laura, Kristy and I headed to the north and during the patrol we got 2 turtles. We had perfect timing so we got to see both turtles dig the nests, lay the eggs and return to sea. However, the best part was the fact that despite there being tons of people on the beach (most likely poachers due to it being the weekend) we didn't have a single poached nest. The boys walked south and didn't get anything, which gave me an idea. It would be better to have 2 patrol times where the north is the focus and the south is checked after. This way we can spend more time working where the turtles seem to be nesting.
Group shot by the pool.

Matt, Victor, Laura and Kristy playing Othella by the pool.
The hatchery chart I made for Costa De Oro.
I am pretty proud of it!
Sunday we all decided to go check out Laguna Mar Hotel since it was the girls last full day on the project. It was really fun we had a couple drinks, played some Othello, swam in the pool and ate a really good lunch. I even got to take a hot shower and call home! After talking with Laura and Kristy, we decided that a trip up to the hotel might be the perfect way for all volunteers to end their time in Costa De Oro.

I had a hard time saying goodbye to
the local kids even though I am
only leaving them for a week.
Last night we tested out our new patrol method and found it to be much better. We were able to put 5 more nests in the hatchery and Laura got to see two nesting turtles her last night on the beach. If we keeping having nights like this the hatchery is going to be filled before we know it.

Then this morning I had to get all packed up to return to San Miguel again and say good bye to another set of great volunteers.

I figured I would share some of the food highlights from this past week. Who know I could cook!
Green beans wrapped in bacon.
Drew's treat!
Lunch at Laguna Mar
Chicken sandwich with bbq sauce, bacon and pineapple.
I was in heaven!

Chicken Tacos

Homemade pizza with sauteed mushrooms, onions and peppers.

Victors grilled veggies with
my homemade onion garlic flatbread