Hello, my name is Mr. Hill. Please join me as I travel to Costa Rica to study sea turtles!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Day Nine: Mid-morning

All packed and ready for the ride to the Tamarindo airport. Before I go, one final post. Last night on duty was a bonanza-of-sorts. At the far end of the section of beach I was patrolling, a black turtle came out of the water and began her journey on land to her nesting spot. Black turtles, unlike leatherbacks and Olive Ridleys, nest in the vegetation beyond the beach, not in the sand, so she had a bit of a hike ahead of her! Further, black turtles, though significantly smaller, pit almost as wide and deep as a leatherback. Consequently, Tera, my duty partner, and I knew the black turtle would be about her business for at least another hour, so we headed back down the beach. (Because the biologists at this station don't study the black turtles, only the leatherbacks and the Olive Ridleys, it wasn't imperative that Tera and I stick around, since we didn't need to work this particular turtle.)

Halfway to the other end of our section of the beach, we noticed ahead of us what we thought was a turtle track. Once we got closer, however, we realized that what we were seeing was not a turtle track but a band about 3 feet wide of hermit crabs! The band, at least 100 crabs strong, stretched from the water to the vegetation, and the crabs didn't seem to be heading quickly in either direction; in fact, it looked as if they had all decided to meet at this pre-arranged spot just to hang out. We watched the crabs for awhile, but they seemed in no hurry to clue us in as to what they were doing, so, in order to stay on schedule with our sweep, we moved on, hoping that when we passed the crabs on our second trip up the beach, we'd be able to figure out why they were there.

About 40 minutes later, we were walking back towards the northern end of the beach, and we passed the band o' crabs once again: they were still just hanging out, so Tera and I still
didn't know what those little buggers were up to. Once again at the northern end, we looked for the black turtle -- we didn't see her immediately, but we could hear her moving around, and Tera was pretty certain the black was in the process of camoflauging her nest. It took us some time to locate her because she had found her way far into the vegetation and sequestered herself somewhat under a large, discarded beach sign. The sign was in her way, and she was banging one of her flippers against it in a futile attempt to get to the sand and vegetation underneath. Tera moved the sign out of the turtle's way, and the turtle resumed her covering. We had planned to stay to make sure she finished her work successfully, but the call came over the radio that the final nest in the hatchery had hatched, so we hurried back down the beach to help measure and weigh the hatchlings. As we scurried, I asked Tera how many hatchlings we might see: she guessed about 25-30; I figured fewer, about 15-20.

When we arrived at the hatchery, two other crew members were there, and they had separated the -- get this -- 59 Olive Ridley hatchlings into three buckets. As the others finished setting up the measuring and weighing station, I went back over to the nest to see if any more hatchlings had swum to the surface of the sand. In fact, three more had just emerged (62 now), so I placed them in the bucket I had brought with me, and went back to where we were about to collect the data on the hatchlings. The biologists don't measure and weigh all the hatchlings; they take a sampling of 20. They measure the length and width of the hatchling's shell and the width of its head, and then they weigh the hatchling. These baby turtles fit easily in the palm of my hand, so you can imagine just how small and incredibly cute they are. (Watching the hatchlings crawl all over each other in the buckets reminded me of the way the middle school boys often climb all over each other in the Middle School Center.)

Once we finished with the measuring and weighing, the first shift of the night was finished, so we picked up the three buckets of hatchlings and headed back to the station. We handed the buckets over to the second shift: they were going to have the pleasure of taking the hatchlings farther down the beach and releasing them into the water! I was tempted to go on the second shift -- I really wanted to see the release of the that many hatchlings -- but it was the other volunteers' shift, not mine, and I didn't want to steal their thunder. When I got up this morning, one of the late-night volunteers told me 8 more hatchlings had emerged during the night: final tally, 70.

I'm telling you, those hatchlings were something to see. All that new, vigorous, rough-and-tumble life making its way out of the nest and into the ocean -- perfect, absolutely perfect. Can't think of a more fitting way to end my time down here.

See y'all tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

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