February 23, 2015

Close to the end of the season!

It's been an amazing two months in Ostional. We are not looking forward to saying goodbye! Although this second half of the nesting season has been slow, we have still learned a lot about the nesting ecology of sea turtles and the maintenance of hatchery nests and hatchlings. We only observed and collected eggs from one leatherback and one black sea turtle during our stay. It's possible since leatherbacks are very pelagic and not always faithful to a certain beach that the females went to another beach to nest this year, as leatherback and black turtle tracks have been reported on beaches adjacent to Ostional.

It could also unfortunately mean there may be more of a decline in the population. Threats caused by humans are driving marine turtles to extinction: fisheries bycatch, climate change or ingestion and entanglement due to plastic debris in the ocean are some of the many hazards that this species are facing. To a leatherback, a floating plastic bag looks just like a jellyfish which is its main source of food. Therefore we have done several beach clean ups at the refuge with our volunteers. Beach clean ups are a simple way for people to get involved with conservation on their own beaches because taking responsibility for trash, even if it's not your own, makes a difference. Clearing debris also makes way for the hatchlings to reach the ocean quickly. In addition, we have removed fish hooks from the mouths of several olive ridley turtles during night patrols as well. 

We have only 5 nests left in the hatchery, 4 leatherbacks and 1 black nest. We are still inputting data to determine hatchling success but several of our nests especially blacks have done well, with hatchlings numbering in the 60's. Hatchlings are emerging every few days, we measure and weigh a sample of turtles from each nest and at night we release them; this is a very special and fun moment especially with volunteers and tourists. After a couple of days that the nest have hatched we do the exhumation to see how has the hatching success been.
The February arribada of olive ridley sea turtles occurred at the beginning of this week and with it lots of people arrived to the beach interested in viewing the turtles. To be able to see both turtle nesting and hatchling releases in one visit makes a very educational and special experience for people and hopefully interests them in their conservation. Sea turtles are especially sensitive to bright white lights so whenever visiting a nesting turtle beach always remember to use a red light and no flash photography!
The arribada has been a memorable time for us as well. Not only is it just an amazing sight to see, we have gained lots of experience tagging and collecting data on turtles since our leatherback project found very few turtles this season.
Ostional is truly a beautiful place. We have been able to explore the area on horseback in the rainforest plus hike with our volunteers through the nearby mangroves to learn about its ecology. 

We are going to miss our starry nights looking for tracks in the sand! We are off to study more about biology and conservation and hope to continue working in the field and maybe even return to Ostional someday!
Pura Vida!
Christina, Sarah, Callie