Saturday, July 13, 2013

Being Bicostal means Starting with One Coast - The Atlantic Ocean - Costa Rica, Part 9

This trip took us into 6 of the 7 provinces in Costa Rica.  It's a really small country, if I haven't mentioned that before.  The comparison that always sticks in my head is that it's only half the size of the state of Kentucky.  And Kentucky is no Alaska or California, if you know what I mean.

So once we left San José, we headed for Tortugero, which is is on the Atlantic coast.  The Tortugero school, which I'll talk a bit about later, was right on the Atlantic beach.  Now, maybe it's because I see the Atlantic (well, the Gulf of Mexico) at least once a year, but I didn't find it nearly as interesting as the Pacific Coast.  I've only seen the Pacific twice in my life.  It also, I'm sure, has something to do with the particular geography of the parts of each coast that I saw.  The Pacific coast of Costa Rica, where I was anyway, was full of volcanic tide pools.  The Atlantic beach was, well, just sand.

That's not to say that it wasn't pretty.

All said, it was a pretty calm stretch of water.  Nothing anyone could surf on. :)

I did find it interesting how black the sand is in certain parts.  Our guide, Johnny, said it's because its volcanic sand.

And there was one very cool thing that we was in the Atlantic Ocean.  Again, thanks to Johnny, I got this very distant, very blurry shot of an animal I could potentially never see again...

Can you tell what it is?

How about if I zoom in?
Green Sea Turtle [007-2013]

It's the flipper from a Green Sea Turtle.  Well, probably a Green.  It was a Green that we saw later that night, but there are something like 5 species of Giant Sea Turtles that breed near Tortugero.

I did get a better chance to see a Sea Turtle, but unfortunately I wasn't able to take pictures at the time.

Tortugero, which means 'turtle' in Spanish, is the home to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.  When we got into Tortugero on Tuesday we did cross the river to see the center and watch a movie on the efforts to save the endangered population.  However, the rain prevented us from doing much of anything else while we were over there.  What we were able to do when we got back to the hotel was to sign up for a Sea Turtle Spawning Observation Tour the next night.  So I paid the fee, dressed all in black, like they told us to, and in the middle of the night, with another storm coming in, we hiked down to a restricted section of beach with the local guides.

Once we were in small groups we stood an waited for the spotters. The spotters simply walked up and down the beach, in the dark, waiting for the female turtles to come up on land and start digging their nests.  Once one was sighted, they radioed to the leaders of the groups and we were brought down one group at a time to watch an endangered Sea Turtle lay her eggs.

Now, if you've ever seen any nature specials about how turtles lay eggs, you know that they dig a big hole in the ground, sit over it, let the tough leathery eggs drop into the hole and then cover the hole up with sand and go back into the ocean.  So I couldn't imagine we'd see much.

But then we were called down and they explained that the female turtle is using every single bit of energy and concentration to lay her eggs, so people really don't bother her if they don't get around to where she can see them.

When we got down to where our spotter found one, I realized that we were going to be within touching distance.  The spotter was laying on his stomach, holding the turtle's back flipper up out of the way, shinning a red light into the nest.  Now either she didn't know or she didn't care, because she was busy dropping eggs as we came in.  Because I was one of the shortest people in the group I ended up right in front, kneeling down, not two feet from the edge of her nest.  We'd been told she'd lay about 125 eggs that night.  From what I could see when we got there, she'd only dropped about 15 before we got there and as we watched she must have laid another 15 or so.  Which meant she was going to be there a long, long time.  And apparently each female comes back to lay eggs about 5 times in a season, each clutch getting smaller and smaller.  Most turtles don't start laying eggs until early July, and it was late June when we got there, so the guides were pretty sure that she was laying her first clutch of the year.

It was a pretty amazing experience to see her laying her eggs from so close, but like I mentioned, there was a storm coming in.  We could see the starts when we got there, but as we waited for the spotters to call up, it was like the stars were going out a few at time moving in from over the ocean.  Mama turtle was still laying eggs when we started seeing rather a lot of lightning over the water and started feeling the first few drops of rain.  So we couldn't stay to watch her cover the eggs or go back into the ocean.

I was told that even if it rained really hard, there was no danger to the eggs because they'd either be covered by mom's body or by sand before the water could get in enough to do any damage or wash them away.

It really was an amazing experience.  My next trip needs to be planned for a time when the eggs would be hatching so I can watch the little guys (and girls) scamper for the water en masse!

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