I saved a turtle!

I’m finding myself strangely suited to jungle life.  I have no issue with cold showers, I can sleep at any time of the day and I love rice and beans!  Since arriving a week ago into Cano Palma, Tortuguero, I’ve been settling in and learning all kinds of new skills. 

Arriving into the station (as in biological research station, not any kind of transportation link) was absolutely stunning.  We’d travelled cross-country on a bus and transferred to a small motor boat as we are only accessible by boat out here.  As soon as the road network was left behind the surroundings became incredibly peaceful, it was just us, the murky yet tranquil canal and the incredible lush green rainforest all around.

The station is a small collection of buildings that houses the volunteers from GVI, and also some ‘proper’ scientists from COTERC who are in the area doing research.  There are quite a few biologists and others here studying turtles, howler monkeys and snakes.  There’s the managers’s office, a dorm room which houses around 24 or so of us (15 volunteers and other staff members), COTERC quarters, kitchen/dining, a library and the shower/washing block.  It is set into landscaped gardens including edible fruits and then on the borders of the garden is where the rainforest starts.  There’s an incredible range of wildlife here, some we’re all very excited to see…. some not so much.  There are groups of howler and spider monkeys, caimans in the canal, numerous birds everywhere, butterflies, several species of lizards, snakes, and of course some very large spiders!  There are mostly orb spiders around the station which are HUGE but generally tend to sit still and are not venomous to humans.  We’ve also seen a Brazilian Wandering Spider which made its’ way into a pile of somebody’s clothes and had to be trapped.  They will bite, are the size of your hand, and are a very frightening bright orange colour….

The last week has been spent in training – what we are doing here is data collection for numerous types of research and we have to make sure what we are collecting is both standardised and accurate.  We have had to pass tests with a score of 95% or more in bird identification, several different types of turtle studies, jaguar predation study and practical skills.  I’m glad to say I passed all of these as of last night and this morning was allowed out on my first research walk!

I had to wake up at 4am this morning and report to the kitchen where I imbibed copious amounts of coffee and gathered all of the kit for the morning census.  The aim of the walk is to excavate hatched turtle nests and determine hatchling success rates, and if they did not hatch decide why not.  It is a 6 mile walk in extremely hot conditions (even starting walking at 5am) and digging up the nests takes some time as you have to collect all eggs and take data on their condition.  This involves opening unhatched eggs and believe me when they’ve been buried in the sand for some time this is a pretty awful job! When bacteria or fungi have gotten in it is like gone-off mayonnaise… not nice.  It’ll be quite some time until I can enjoy a nice eggs benedict again….

We had an amazing surprise in one nest however, when we found a hatchling leatherback turtle that had not been able to make it out of the nest.  We dug him up, and placed him onto the sand so he could find his own way to the sea.  I can’t describe how cute this tiny turtle was – he must have been around 15cm long and 10cm wide, and he’ll grow into  a massive animal up to 1.5m long and weighing up to 750kg.  It took him around 45 mins to struggle his way into the ocean, but we protected him until he’d made it, and hopefully that will be one more of these critically endangered species that will survive into adulthood.

I’m exhausted after the walk but am now in town enjoying some great food, beer and internet access.  I’ll try to update again when I can, in the meantime I hope you are all well!

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6 Responses to “I saved a turtle!”

  1. Eleanor Henderson Says:

    Yey!! Well done my little Jungle Jess!
    Good luck little turtle…

    Hope you managed your bag OK and your boots aren’t giving you too much jip.

    Lots of love my dear xx

  2. Chris Says:

    Yay for the little turtle!

    Do you take the eggs when the turtles lay them and incubate them in a hatchery? I’d be interested to hear how it compares to what I saw in Borneo (http://redyeti.net/Borneo/slides/IMG_6998.html and the bottom row onwards of http://redyeti.net/Borneo/index15.html)

    Don’t forget to start collecting those howler monkeys for the snow monkey cross breeding army programme.

  3. Iris Greenland Says:

    So interesting to read, Jess, and it sounds like you’re loving it – I’m made up!!! You are very brave exposing yourself to close encounters with spiders, too. Mum xxxxxx

  4. rachel Says:

    post some photos!

  5. Jo Says:

    eep! Don’t like the sound of that ‘wandering’ spider, sounds like “he’ll be baaaaaaack”. But that’s awesome that you saved a turtle on your first time! xxx

  6. Joy Says:

    Sounds like you’re having an awesome experience….that’s great news!! Take care & watch out for those Wandering Brazillians. Cheers, Joy. xox

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