Day 2: Expedition to promote the sustainability of the marine resources in the Costa Rica Thermic Dome
In addition to the irreplaceable ecologic value of the leatherback turtle, this critically endangered species offers priceless potential for sustainable development of the coastal communities surrounding their unique nesting beaches. Travelers from all over the world chose Playa Grande as a priority tourism destination to experience firsthand the awe of watching such giant (and rare!) individuals coming up to shore and laying their eggs.
We met inspiring local leaders who spearheaded the creation of a Community Association that trains volunteer turtle seekers and tour guides. They receive the visitors at the tourist center at the Baulas National Park and share with them educational information about the leatherbacks. They are responsible for bringing the tourists to the beach when there is a turtle sighting, following strict rules to ensure the turtles’ safety and comfort. The volunteers reminisced about the old times, when “one could barely walk on the beach” given how many turtles would be nesting. They expressed their utter passion for taking care of the ones that remain, highlighting the environmental value of the leatherbacks, and also the cultural relevance in the region. (see upside photo)
The park ranger in charge of the official surveillance post in the Park also had much to share. Despite the challenges that they face, including little staff and scarce technical resources, he described his favorite moment on the job as “watching the first hints of dawn while safeguarding a leatherback, its colors and beauty…” We could feel his commitment, but we were short on fully understanding the power behind his words, until later in the evening.
We were getting ready to leave the rangers’ station, satisfied with the day’s work, but somewhat disappointed with the confirmation of the small number of turtles seen to date this season (only 22 so far, and none in the past seven nights). Just then, we received a call announcing the sighting of a nesting turtle! In a second, the whole scene changed. The tour guides rushed to gather the groups, the rangers got going immediately- contagious excitement all around!
We dashed to the beach with the community volunteer guides who were leading the tourists to the nest. The park rangers were already there, making sure the turtle was not being disturbed. The research team arrived on site as well, to take measurements, count the eggs, and mark the nest for monitoring until the hatching.
We were able to witness this fascinating 650lb. leatherback turtle digging deep in the sand, laying its eggs, covering the nest and hiding the spot to prevent predators from finding it. We could hear her breathe, seeming exhausted but determined. Unforgettable moments! We stayed until it finally made its way back into the surf and swam away from shore… towards the Costa Rica Thermic Dome!
Under the cover of darkness, the Leatherback Sea Turtle Research Trust team count eggs. The community volunteers lead small groups of local and international tourists to watch the turtles, with close supervision of the park rangers to ensure the turtles’ wellbeing.