NSTA Professional Development Trip: Part II

turtleTurtle Data Collection

(posted on behalf of Greg Neff)

July 24 PM

On a very rainy afternoon, we visited the town of Tortuguero, being sure to equip ourselves with rain gear and take in some of the culture of this isolated community, yet dependent on tourism.

We attended a presentation on the history of the Sea Turtle Conservancy.  Interesting program, where the local monitoring of Turtle nesting beaches and data collection is done mainly by college student interns.

Historical presentation was followed up by a 1 1/2 hour training session on how to approach and log nesting turtles.  We given instructions off sad how to collect and log the data followed by several practice sessions.  Felt well prepared to go and do some turtle research. This would happen in shifts later in the evening

Part of a group that pulled the 12:00-4:00 am shift, 2 groups returned to research center at 11:45. Though we all had rainwear, we were quite unprepared for the deluge we were to experience.  The 8-12 shift was returning drenched and coated with black volcanic sand!

Quick review of data collection protocol and we were out on the beach in very dark wet conditions, use of lights for navigation is forbidden so as not to alarm the turtles.  We walked the beach watching for turtle tracks, which in the dark, look as if you had tied a log to a rope and dragged it up the beach.  The research assistant, explained how to determine weather it was an up beach track or a down beach (to the water) track.  You just have to pass your hands in the wet sand and feel for the direction of flipper marks.

Rain continued to come down sporadically in torrents and as a fine mist the entire time.  Dark conditions made walking challenging, but the real treachery was in the terrain itself.  The beach was littered with coconut, shells, driftwood and fallen trees.  These you could sense as you approached them.  There were also the body pits dig by turtles to lay their eggs.  These were no small obstacle, often being almost 1 meter deep.  Often the first indication you were at one of these was when you were plunging into it.  Now I know why the first crew was covered in sand!

Finding a turtle in the process of nesting, there are 4 stages as that the turtle goes through:

Leaving the sea and dragging itself up the beach

Digging a body pit large enough to contain its entire body and the egg chamber

Going into a trance, and laying the eggs

Leaving the trance, camouflaging the actual egg site, and returning to the sea

During these stages the only time the turtle is actually workable is during the trance/egg laying stage.  We found turtles, 6 of them, but were able to approach only 2 of them.  Even in the trance stage, the turtle was throwing around sand, giving measurement a challenge.

Returned to the research center and encountered the other late shift group.  They had measured 6 turtles.

Boat ride back to Evergreen lodge, totally wet and caked in sand.  Took a shower with all my clothes on to remove the sand. Removed 1 layer at a time.  Fell into bed for a 2 hour nap before breakfast time.  One night of data collection done, 2 to go!

Day 2

Costa Rican plant

(posted on behalf of Greg Neff)

July 25, 2012

Departed San Jose at 6:30 for Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Traveled main Hwy 32  towards province of Limon.

Drove over the continental divide. East of which rivers flow towards the Caribbean, west rivers flow toward the Pacific.

Most of the first 2 hours took us through the Braulio Carillo National park. The park and highway 32 were both named after the first Costa Rican president, instrumental in establishing Costa Rica as an independent country, and developing communication and access between the central valley and the Caribbean coastal areas.

CR National Park system is modeled after the National Park system of the US,  however with some major philosophical management differences.

US park system is designed for the parks to have minimal development and be economically self sustaining units that preserve the natural environment and provide access to the public.

CR has different levels of environmental protection including,  wildlife refuge, national forest, and national park. The park, the highest level of protection, is a system primarily intended to preserve the natural environment, and prohibits development beyond the necessary management facilities.  Besides preventing construction of hotels and lodges, hunting and resource harvesting are also forbidden. The parks are mainly accessible only at the perimeters, minimizing public as well as tourist use.

The a preservationist approach to managing the parks results in a system economically dependent on government directed funds. CRs current challenge is to balance the economic sustainability with the environmental and global necessity of preserving its unique and precious resources.  Even educating its own population.

man on a boat

Left the bus at the parameter of Tortuguero National Park, and began our 1 1/2 hour journey to the coast and the community of Tortuguero.  Tortuguero is only accessible by water and is a community/town that was established and developed before the national park was declared. This remains a small area of privately owned land, completely surrounded by the national park.

The Tortuguero National Park is a classic example of the challenges CR faces convincing the national population of the need to rethink traditional methods of resource usage.  The sea turtles have traditionally provided food, and have been harvested with sour restriction until the 1970’s.  Due to the efforts of Dr. Archie Carr during the 1960’s, the CR government became concerned about the sustainability of the sea turtle population, as the CR coastlines are one of the primary global nesting sites for turtles.  The Tortuguero National Park was declared, but it required educating the local population as to the value of such a protection.  Locals were first employed in the research and data collection, eventually a tourist industry developed, making live turtles of far greater value to the local population.  Poaching and local clandestine use still occurs, however the scale of harvesting has been dramatically reduced, with the local population well aware of the value of preserving this resource.

Next, taking part in the count, data collection on turtle nesting.

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