The leatherback turtle, or baula in Spanish, is a truly amazing animal. However, like many other marine creatures, it is an endangered species. Leatherback turtles come to Costa Rica each year to lay their eggs on the beach, but they face many predators, some of which are human. Locals have for many years been accustomed to eating both the meat and eggs of the turtles. It is a tradition they are very reluctant to end.Hopefully, the current campaigns and programs to save the turtles will educate people so that future generations may enjoy the sight of such magnificent animals.
Having recently been at Parismina (a fishing village on the northern Caribbean coast), one of the beaches to which leatherbacks come, I realized the local community is to be admired. I was on a school trip completing my required hours of social service and I saw how people have taken on the challenge to save the turtles quite seriously. It was inspiring to see the amount of people who spent their nights patrolling the beaches watching out for the turtles. Our group got the chance to see leatherbacks lay eggs and cover up their nests.
Sometimes the patrol guides dug up the eggs and took them to special hatcheries in which they would be safe from both human and natural threats. Other times they decided the turtle had done a good job of hiding the eggs and so they were left in the nest, which is of course the ideal place for their development. The main issue is the fact that if the nests are left unguarded there is a high chance the eggs will be stolen. This is why it is necessary for people to patrol the beaches watching out for egg thieves.
These egg thieves, or hueveros, as they are known, are now becoming a reduced number.
Some of them have even become patrol guides, thanks to projects to save the turtles organized by Salvemos las Tortugas de Parismina (Let’s Save the Turtles of Parismina).
Speaking to one of these hueveros who became a guide, I came to understand why they went from predators to environmentalists.
He said it was now difficult to steal the eggs since there were patrol guides constantly walking up and down the beach.
Since the patrol guides get paid, many of these egg thieves decided to become patrol guides instead of stealing eggs. This means they are able to provide for their families, only now they are helping the environment instead of harming it.
The whole experience was inspiring and made me recognize the importance of saving these reptiles, which are one of the many natural wonders to be found in Costa Rica. Any help is welcome by the organization (Salvemos las Tortugas de Parismina), and you can be a part of it. The sight of a leatherback is impressive and knowing that you are helping them survive gives a feeling of satisfaction difficult to describe.
The time has come for Ticos to become aware of the importance of nature in Costa Rica. If similar efforts are promoted around the country, tourism will flourish for many more years and the whole country will benefit.
If you wish to volunteer and help save these wonderful animals, contact the turtle association at [email protected].
John Loveday, 17, is a student at the BritishSchool of Costa Rica. He lives in the northwestern San José district of La Uruca.