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by Jim DiCarlo

Newly-hatched Olive Ridley sea turtles are about six centimeters long.  The sun sets over the Pacific Ocean near Costa de Oro on the Nicoya Peninsula, and we watch with awe as more than a hundred baby sea turtles are set free to waggle their way towards the pounding surf.  The three CIRENAS faculty children, Emmy (8), Sadie (9) and Ruby (12), have been given the honor of releasing the turtles, one-by-one, onto the sand. Before beginning the epic journey, each turtle digs its snout into the sand to imprint the unique chemistry of this particular beach deep within its brain so that one day maybe fifteen years from now, provided it survives the many perils that await in the vast ocean, it might return to this very beach to dig a pit in the sand and lay its eggs.  The incoming waves shove the turtles back up the beach, and they tumble and spin like so many leaves blown by the wind on a New England autumn day.  “Don’t move your feet.  You might step on one,” warns Charlotte Addams (aka Lotti), the director of the sea turtle conservation project in Costa de Oro.  The water, teeming with turtles, rises around our ankles and then recedes.  The turtles come to rest, reorient themselves, and once again begin their trek toward the ocean.  The waves roll in again and the pattern repeats, three steps forward and two steps back.  We know that maybe only one of these turtles will reach adulthood, but we put that thought aside today and watch in amazement at the turtles’ determination and the raw power of instinct.

This past summer CIRENAS participated with the Costa Rican marine conservation organization PRETOMA (Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, pretoma.org) in the project to create a safe haven for incubating turtle eggs away from both natural and human predators.  Using handtools and buckets, PRETOMA and CIRENAS volunteers moved tons of sand to build this hatchery.  Our lucky group arrived on the day, after 50+ days of incubation, when the last batch of turtles emerged from the sand and was set on their way.  CIRENAS is excited to join with this local organization in their work to preserve marine ecosystems.

The sea turtle release capped off an incredible day of exploration for the CIRENAS semester program’s new faculty.  We explored more distant sections of the Grew-family ranch, forded two rivers (and helped pull a stranded truck free from the Rio Bongo), purchased locally-made corn tostadas and empenadas, visited the neighboring town of Quebradas de Nando to our north, had a typically-Costa Rican lunch of arroz con pollo, played frisbee in the ocean off Playa Coyote, and shopped at the market in Coyote for supplies.  At the market, as we packed up our truck, we encountered Eric Lopez, also of PRETOMA, who let us know about the sea turtle release.

We left the beach Costa de Oro in the dark and slowly worked our way back to the CIRENAS campus.  Even after a busy day we were still giddy with the memory of the turtles striving toward the sea.  I wonder how many of them made it?