Ecodestination works in partnership with Serafin Station, a marine turtle research station located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Here a team of biologists and volunteers work together to protect the nesting habitat of Leatherback, Green and Hawksbill sea turtles.
Every night from March to September, the biologists patrol the black sand beaches in search of nesting females. Once found, they hang back until the turtle has selected her site and begun to dig her nest. At that point she goes into a bit of a "trance" and can be approached. Shell measurements, tagging and other similar data are recorded, and the eggs are collected for transfer to the station's protected nursery. The nursery at the station is located directly in front of the station within a barbed wire pen to prevent anyone from disturbing the nests. The nests are dug at precisely the same depth as the original. The fertile eggs are placed in first and then a protective layer of infertile eggs is placed on top followed by a sand covering. The infertile eggs will eventually disintegrate and cause the sand above to slightly collapse, making it easier for the hatchlings to dig through after their 3-month gestation is complete.
Each nest is also dug inside a cylinder of hardware cloth to prevent access to the eggs by dogs, anteaters, raccoons, coatimundis and other burrowers. There is some discussion among the scientific community regarding whether or not nests should be relocated but with poaching being so prevalent along the Caribbean coast, there is little choice. With an average estimated annual household income of $500 USD, families living in these largely remote areas look to turtle nests as a possible source of income. The eggs are edible can sell at a market price of $1/egg. Poachers are not evil people looking to kill off the turtle population; they are simply living off what the land provides them.
Serafin station and Ecodestination work together to offer these locals work on patrol so that they might benefit from the turtles without the need to harvest them. Scientists casually use the numbers 1000 to 1 to describe the ratio of eggs that are likely to survive to maturity and nest again. There are many dangers for a turtle. Burrowing predators, incorrect sand temperature, poachers, disorientation due to light pollution, and a host of opportunistic predators that feed on the hatchlings as they run for the sea. Serafin station is able to remove almost all of these obstacles and assure that the highest possible number of hatchlings make it to the sea. Once in the sea, they are on their own. In the 2007 season we collected over 44,000 eggs and are optimistic that there will be more than just 44 mature females to return some day due to our efforts and those of the groups and volunteers that come to help.
There are seven species of marine turtle in the world today. They are the Leatherback, Olive-Ridley, Kemps-Ridley, Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Flatback, most of which nest somewhere in Costa Rica. Only the Flatback, which nests only in Mexico and the Gulf states, is not found in Costa Rica. Of the five species that do nest in Costa Rica, the Olive-Ridley has arguably the most unique nesting habit of all the species. Anywhere from January to March (nesting season) the Olive-Ridleys will gather in mass off the Pacific shore until all at once they will come ashore and nest in what is known as "arribada." During these nesting rushes hundreds to thousands of female turtles will lay their eggs. In some cases, previously laid egg clutches are dug up by other females looking to lay their own nest.
This method of nesting has been proven successful this species as predators are unable to take all the eggs when laid in such extreme numbers. The arribadas will usually last 2-3 days.
Loggerhead sea turtles nest primarily in the Southern US, but on rare occasion their nests have been found in Costa Rica. The Hawksbill is among the more endangered sea turtles. Its status is currently listed as critically endangered due in part.