The last turtle returning before dawn
Photo courtesy of Dr. Frank Paladino/Earthwatch Institute
Why We Are Here
by Dr. Richard Reina, scientist

It is 5 a.m. and almost dawn. We have been patrolling Playa Grande since 6:30 p.m. yesterday evening, from marker 6 on the beach to marker 36, a distance of three kilometers. We worked all night because one high tide was late in the afternoon and the other was early in the morning. The turtles come onto the beach to nest around the time the tide is high, so we need to be there for both of these tides.

In all, we found five leatherbacks at 7 p.m., 9:30 p.m., 10:15 p.m., 1:30 a.m., and 1:48 a.m. We were able to record ID tags, take shell measurements, draw small blood samples, and relocate five nests to our hatchery — a total of 254 yolked eggs and 202 yolkless eggs.

Why are we doing all this? The leatherback turtles are extremely endangered and the number of turtles nesting here has fallen a lot in the last 15 years. It is important to measure the size of the population and protect as many turtles and nests as possible.

The high tides wash out nests because the area of sand left for the turtles to nest in has been cut back by growth of vegetation planted by people who own properties behind the beach. We move nests to the hatchery so that they are safe from being flooded and so that Playa Grande can produce as many baby turtles as possible this season. We are also studying aspects of turtle biology to understand turtles better and be able to take more effective action to protect them.

So far (since October) we have found 90 turtles. We have rescued about 3,000 eggs from exceptionally high tides, and relocated them to our hatchery, located safely above the high tide mark.