By Indi Nunez
To witness her on the sandy shore like that, her strong extremities digging, her mind pursuing and pushing in single direction, set only on completing what she came to do, there is nothing else in the world that could compare. To know she is only one of the mere two-thousand left on the Pacific coast and to have watched her, to have had the luck itself to watch her is simply incredible. Who knows how many have had the chance to observe a Leatherback turtle dutifully laying her eggs under a shining moon. The one thing I do know though, is that experiences like this a very slim and that if something isn’t done about saving these turtles there will be none of these experiences left to be witnessed.
CIRENAS has been studying turtles and turtle conservation for a couple weeks. We have not only learned about them in a classroom but also by going out into the field, involving sustainability throughout the whole process. Recently, on the five day field trip the group took up north from campus visiting turtle nesting beaches, we had many amazing experiences. Personally, my favorite day was the fifth day which consisted of three main events including the visit of Rancho Avellanas, the town of Tamarindo, and the beach of Playa Grande.
Rancho Avellanas is a goat farm located in Playa Avellanas and was the first place we visited on day five. It was first created by a man named Carlos who, once he retired, decided he wanted to make his farm into something sustainable that he could live off. Carlos was a somewhat stocky man with a short beard and knowing eyes. He wore a large sunhat, jeans with a brown belt, and a tucked in grey shirt. He began his farm with a few goats but has progressed into something much bigger. He now not only has many more goats but also everything he needs to feed the goats on the farm. He grows all their food on his property which includes a diverse amount and variety of plants to feed the goats a healthy, mixed diet. These goats then produce milk which is turned into different kinds of cheeses and yogurts. The goats are kept meticulously clean and healthy and are divided into different sections. The male goats are in one, the females are in the other, and the most adorable jumping bean baby goats are in the last. When I saw these baby goats, my heart stopped. Everything about them made me fall in love with them. Their distinct square eyes, the way they jumped up and down and were so friendly to people, and of course their intelligence. They were so small and speedy, it was obvious they are quick learners. There were also newborn baby goats who were absolutely adorable. The way their hair curled into small creamy ringlets around their body and the small throaty goat sound they made when I held them in my arms made me want to keep them there forever. All the goats were obviously well cared for.
Carlos also told us how he was experimenting on the way he bred the goats and the way the products were made to create the best product that could possibly be achieved. It wasn’t just a job for him, it was a life. He now sells his products in a nearby town called Tamarindo at a Saturday market and also distributes them locally. His products are great because the goats are healthy, which makes their cheese and yogurt healthy, which makes you healthy. Healthy to me means rich in nutrients, naturally grown and in good shape. For example, a healthy goat is a strong goat, a goat that has energy and is happy. Carlos deeply cares about the way his goats are fed and kept and really takes his time and effort to make sure they are raised in such a way. His whole project is all done in a sustainable, safe, and local way and is a perfect example of how to run a farm.
The next town that the group stopped through was Tamarindo, a rather large coastal town that overlooks a beautiful dreamlike beach. Over the last couple of years Tamarindo has boomed into a bustling Metropolis. It now has tall buildings, private developments, and a flood of stores whereas it used to be a small, calm beach town. Within the first the first five minutes of entering the town limits we counted around fifty billboards. This city like beach town used to be an important nesting beach for turtles but now because of all its lights and commotion turtles don’t like to lay their eggs there or even come near it. I could also really tell the difference between the other quiet beach towns we had crossed within the last few days and Tamarindo. It felt like the whole point of a beach was lost in Tamarindo. The laid back, placid feeling I get when I am at the beach surrounded by palm trees and as far as I can see there are waves crashing and sandy shores was lost because of the buildings towering over. To me a beach is a place to escape the city, not a place to bring the the city to. In a matter of years this relaxed feeling was lost. Tamarindo and its neighboring beach Playa grande are divided by an estuary that runs between them. The difference between these two beaches that are uniquely divided by this estuary is amazing. When I first gazed from the beach of Tamarindo across to the beach of Playa Grande the most important thing I noticed was that there was no towers, houses ,or lights on the beach, all there was the expanse of the shore. Later that day when I looked from Playa Grande to Tamarindo all I could see we’re large hotels and such. I think part of this is due to the fact that Playa Grande is a protected beach but it’s crazy to think that if it wasn’t it would be just like Tamarindo.
The reason our CIRENAS group visited Playa Grande was to learn about Learherbacks and more importantly to try to see one. Playa Grande is one of the Leatherbacks main nesting beaches and MINAE (Costa Rica’s wildlife protection organization) is in charge of it and of the turtles that arrive there to nest. MINAE has an office near the beach and they offer educational tours to see Leatherbacks. We arrived at the office at around 10:00pm on the night of our fifth day. When we got there, everyone was required to write their names down and sign signatures beside them. They then led us to a meeting in which they gave a brief overview on Leatherbacks and rules about what to do if we had the luck to see one. This is what was to be done: we were to wait outside. If they received a call from someone patrolling the beach we were to go with the MINAE people and follow their instructions there. If we there was no turtle call then the latest they would would wait was 4:00am. So everyone went outside and completely set up on the cement porch outside the station. In minutes yoga mats, thermarests, sheets, snacks and backpacks for pillows were on the ground. Just like that seventeen people were ready for whatever was to come, I guess we were getting good at quick traveling. To look at the scene from the outside must have been strange, to watch so many people go from sitting in a group to everyone taking over and camping out.I layed down and started reading with my sweater under my head, a yoga mat under my back, and a sarong over my body until around twelve o’clock. I also thought of all we had learned recently about Leatherbacks, how there are only two-thousand females left on the Pacific coast and how they are the biggest of all the turtles. I learned about their leathery shell that allows the them move in a quicker way and how because of their shell they got their name.
My mind kept wandering until eventually I fell asleep, but continuously woke to various sounds. At around 2:30 am I woke up to the sound of a woman speaking on the phone. “¿Esta seguro?…… tortuga….” We’re some of the few words I grasped from the conversation which roughly translate into “Are you sure?” and “turtle”. That was enough to make me happy. She got off the phone and turned towards us, “Hay tortuga” she said. We were going to see a leatherback turtle! As soon as we knew this we jumped up and immediately packed everything in five minutes. Less than twenty minutes after that we were on the beach lined up in groups to see this magnificent animal. I was placed in group one and as I walked up to her I could not believe my eyes.
The moon was nearly full shining from above naturally illuminating the waves and the creases in the sand. Her massive shell was outlined by shadows and light and every one of her movements could easily be observed. She was beautiful. I stood in silence, in awe of the work of this creature, in awe of her strength. I will never forget that moment, how she layed her eggs and how she patted the sand down to cover her nest. Her mere size astounded me. I felt so overwhelmingly lucky to have been able to experience such a sight. As we left the beach around 4:00am I could help but thinking that this kind of turtle might not even exist within the next few years and how I had the chance to see one. Leatherbacks are in such a great danger that the possibility of them becoming completely extinct is highly possible.It reminded me of yet another reason why I would like to make a difference with these turtles lives. Nothing can replace being there in person and experiencing it myself. If something is done now to change the leatherbacks fate someone else in the future may have a chance to watch something like this too. If we begin to change now there still may be a chance to turn these turtles’ populations around. I would love to know if future generations will be able to see these Leatherbacks, not just hear stories about their wonders. What if ten years from now you would like to meet a Leatherback on a sandy shore under the starspeckled sky but there are none left to see? Let’s make sure there are more to see, let’s save the Leatherbacks.