Hello! My name is Ms. Elebash . Please join me as I travel to Costa Rica to study sea turtles!

Monday, January 31, 2011

My new friend Sal from New Hampshire shot a video of a nest excavation. I have tried to download it here, but can't, so I will email it. These are some still lifes. This is the nest I watched for 8 hours in the last day and a half!! We found about 36 billiard sized eggs. they are pictured below. Some are still whole and some are sort of collapsed.

We also found some shells and some SAGS. In the picture with Kim digging in the sand you can see the SAGS which are either shell or sans albumen globs. They are in the corner of the picture. There are about 10 of them. They can be as small as a penny. Scientists don't know what they are for. The people here think they help with the gas exchange in the nest.

Kim, the researcher, is the digger and doing all the work. You can see how deep the nest is...better than arm's length. She relocated it from Playa Ventanas (about one mile away) about 60 ish days ago.

After this picture we took the metal strainer and the eggs down to the water's edge to open everything up, count, and bury the remains. the water will eventually take it back to sea. You can hear me say, the word "ripe." The smell was strong when Kim opened one by mistake while excavating.

In the following pictures you will see one turtle that died early on, about 29 that did not develop at all. They looked like raw eggs when they were opened, about 3 that developed some, and 3 were in the unknown category.

The video is the best. Email me if you want to see it, please.

Now it is morning and I have the 9-11 shift in the hatchery again. It is very hot so I have moved my chair away from the hatchery to be under a tree. Above me is a chatty black bird with yellow eyes and a fiercely sturdy straight-pointed black beak that looks good for ripping fruit. I can tell that I am in his territory. He is about 12 inches long. His voice is like a siren, “whoooooop” that starts out low and goes to high. And then “drrrr, drrr, drrr,” sing-song-y, and then just “pck,pck,pck,” and more. His repertory is extensive. He might be in the redwing blackbird or cowbird family. When I get back to the station I will check out the bird identification book and see what it is. He was shy of the camera and me.

Night visitor. Guess who came to visit between 3am and 7am? Major predator.

I put my hand there so you could see how big the prints were. I bet the canines were just as large!

On another note: You would not believe how cool it is the watch the night sky for 6 hours straight!! We faced the Pacific so watched the Milky Way above us at 9pm travel down to the horizon by 3am. Orion was there, too, so we put him to bed and watched the southern cross and Scorpio rise. We saw about 10 shooting stars. Phenomenal!

The researchers know whose nest it is. Each leatherback (I think the other turtles, too) that comes out of the water either has or doesn’t have a chip in her shoulder. When she comes up, the researchers who patrol the beach nightly locate her, scan her chip, measure her carapace length and width, and count her eggs. They also put a thermo-couple (thermometer) in the nest so they can watch the temperature. I think you know why they want to know the temperature. More on this later.

Boil (verb): The term to boil means just that. Think about a pot of boiling water and how the movement of the water is. All of a sudden the hatchlings start digging upward furiously, pushing the sand that is on top of them below them. At once the sand opens up and the babies emerge and start trekking for the water.

There are several jobs that we will be doing. Mostly, we are the data collectors for the scientists and researchers. During the night you are either on patrol for 6 hours scanning the beach for turtles that come up to lay and to check out the nests that hatch, in the hatchery watching for the boil, or on dawn walks to look for what apparently looks like tractor marks in the sand for turtles that come up too late for the night patrol.

My job last night was at the hatchery. The biologists move nests to this location when they are in harm’s way- either a lot of foot traffic or the nest is too close to water’s edge. I stayed in the hatchery from 9pm until 3am. Every twenty minutes my partner and I checked the sand above the nest to see if there was any movement that would tell us that the hatchlings were beginning to dig out. Since we are at the end of the nesting season, there are only two nests. One is an Olive Ridley that is due February 2. The other is a leatherback nest which boiled two nights ago and 42 leatherbacks dug out.

There should be another 42 eggs (about). Nothing happened last night. Today we are going to excavate the nest and see what we find.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

You're looking from afar at Tamarindo Bay where the turtles nest. You can also see a little sliver of blue which is an estuary that empties into the Pacific. They say that two crocodiles live there. Maybe on the map of Costs Rica you can see the estuary better. Estuaries are interesting because lots of animals come there to have their babies...crabs, fish, sharks, stingrays, birds of all kinds, and many others. I'll let you know more when I am able to talk with the locals and to walk where it empties into the ocean.

I arrived safely in Liberia, Costa Rica. When I checked into my motel, this piece of pottery was sitting on the desk. I know you are making something out of clay in art that has to do with Costa Rica and animals. I was reminded of you boys. Not quite pre-Columbian but it is a beautiful piggy bank. I'll check in with Ms. Menschel.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

We will both have to do some research to answer many of the questions you are asking. We can confer on those later. I am wondering where you will get your information... And where are you going to keep all of the information that you are finding? Your notebook? The wall? Your head? Hmm...

I can't wait to meet a leatherback either! But I will keep my distance because I do not want to frighten her and keep her from laying her eggs. I'll fill you in about all kinds of things the first time I see one. That might be Sunday night.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and queries. See you tomorrow, actually!!
Lots of great questions! Thanks!

Ever since I was little and went to a family camp on the Pamlico River in North Carolina I have loved turtles. Some mornings when us kids would get up and run around the sandy grounds before the bell rang for breakfast, we would find red-eared sliders hatchlings working their way toward the water. Once we rather carelessly took three home with us in our car. We lost one somewhere in the car. I guess it died and dried up. It never smelled and we never found it. The other ones we raised but I can't remember what happened in the end. Little did I know that we were doing just what one shouldn't do...taking creatures out of the wild and trying to tame them. Three down for nature!

At that same camp one night a turtle about one foot in diameter came ashore. About 15 of us watched her dig her nest, lay her eggs, and then return to the water. Someone shone a flashlight on her the whole time. We kept really quiet. I am sure some of those eggs hatched and lived in the wild as 60 days later there were not a lot of kids around to nab them!

More thoughts and facts on light later...

Friday, January 14, 2011

I'm heading down to the land of amazing Chelonioideans...

Chelonioideans? I think that's what they could be called...Chelonioidea is the Latin superfamily name for the two groups of sea turtles which grace our oceans.

Turtles popped up during the Triassic or Jurassic period, somewhere in the neighborhood of 220 million years ago. They lived on land and were thought to be carnivores. When food on land was hard to come by, they adapted and went into the water. Here, through eons and eons of years, their appendages became flippers and their shell elongated and became more water dynamic. Their diets changed as the availability of food changed. They probably became larger as a means for self defense. Female turtles continued to lay their eggs on land. At any rate,they are old on the evolutionary stage. Scientists are studying their past to create the full story.

And scientists are also studying the present because the sea turtle population has declined 90% in the last thirty years. The leatherback in particular is listed as critically endangered. Costa Rica
has the last group of Pacific beaches where the turtles are nesting. The nightly nesting has declined from around 200 a night in the 1980s to about as little as 10 a night in 1996. I am going down to these beaches to help save the leatherback. I will be working at the Goldring Marine Biology Field Station in conjunction with Earthwatch.

Amazing? Just check out the picture.