Today’s blog post about working with sea turtles in Costa Rica is by Brian Drozd, a program officer at the U.S. Department of State. He has over 6 years of experience working for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked on grants and communications in the Climate Change Division. His Master’s degree in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development enabled him to focus on sustainable tourism and conservation.
In the summer of 2009 I spent 10 weeks working with sea turtles on the rugged coast of Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Working as a research assistant for the Sea Turtle Conservancy, I spent my time walking up and down a 5 mile stretch of beach in the middle of the night looking for green sea turtles to measure, tag, and count the number of eggs they laid. I did this only for meals and a roof over my head. Why would someone do this? Sea turtles have swum in the world’s oceans for 100 million years, and they are in danger of extinction. Threats from poaching, commercial fishing, and climate change, among others, are threatening these animals all over the world. Many people say healthy sea turtles mean healthy oceans.
There are many different species of sea turtles, but I primarily worked with green sea turtles. Some facts about these amazing animals:
- They only lay eggs every 3-4 years, and generally come back to nest on the same beach where they were born throughout their life. One turtle we found had nested on the same beach in 1982!
- They only lay their eggs at night, after digging a hole that can be up to 5 feet deep.
- They only come on land to lay their eggs.
- There are only an estimated 88,000 nesting green turtle females in the world.
The goal of my time in Tortuguero was to help the Sea Turtle Conservancy collect data to monitor the health and numbers of the sea turtle population. We also worked closely with the local people to educate them about sea turtles and help them conduct their eco-tourism business with the turtles in a safe manner.
One of the most amazing experiences as a research assistant was when we put a satellite transmitter onto a green turtle. Using a transmitter to monitor turtles we are able to learn about their feeding patterns, how long they stay under water, and much more. It is just this kind of valuable information that is helping scientists learn how to better help protect these animals.
Sea Turtles nest all over the world. Large nesting populations are found in many countries in Latin America and Africa, as well as in India, Indonesia, and China. All sea turtles are in need of protection, monitoring, and research in order to make sure they survive for future generations. There are many actions you can take to help sea turtles near your home and around the world. Some of them are: reducing pollution, not eating sea turtle meat or eggs, and protecting coastlines by slowing development and reducing light on nesting beaches. View more tips here and research just a few of the many organizations working to save turtles around the world. I had an incredible time working with sea turtles, and I’m sure you would too!
Interested in learning more? Check out one of these great sites!