During the winter break of my 7th grade, our family went to Costa Rica for 3 weeks to work with the endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles with my dad’s colleague who worked at Drexel University (my eventual university). This wasn’t my first time to Central America, but it was my first time to Costa Rica.
We flew into San Jose before we made our way to Santo Domingo where we stayed for a few days exploring the city and getting used to the area. We ended up at Playa Grande where Drexel had set up its base location for studying, researching, and observing the process for female Leatherbacks to laying their eggs.
I learned a lot about the different ranges for where the eggs get laid, what happens to most of the eggs and how one out of about 110 (the average number of eggs laid by a female, called a clutch) will make it to adulthood and mature to the age of reproduction, the way nature works for the babies, how temperature effects the sex of the turtles, and more.
There are three areas for laying the eggs, the tide line, the mid-line, and high-line (not technical terms). The eggs laid at the tide line were dug up again by research students and taken to the incubation area located at the high-line where they would incubate until they hatch. The mid-line eggs would be judged and if they were too close to the tide-line, would be dug up and moved to higher grounds because if they were too close to the water they would drown before they could dig themselves out.
We worked at night, in two shifts, an 11 pm to 3 am shift and then a 3 am to 7 am shift, patrolling the beach for when turtles come up to lay their eggs.
As assistants to the research students, we learned about the tagging process, how to dig up the eggs, how to identify how old a turtle was, and more. It was really quite an experience to touch an ancient and prehistoric creature that’s survived in the world today. They are sleek, and bumpy at the same time, because their skin is leathery, but they have shells which seems like a contradiction, but it’s a wondrous creature to study.
Part Two coming next….