Laurie M. Penland
Tortuguero sea turtle research programs begin another year!
t’s 8 p.m. and you've just joined several other program participants to begin a four-hour shift monitoring a section of beach that begins behind CCC's John H. Phipps Biologi- cal Field Station in Tortuguero, Costa Rica — the nesting beach for the largest colony of green turtles in the Western Hemisphere. Your team's assignment is to find nesting turtles, count eggs and tag turtles. It will be a very busy night. CCC researchers and participants become one large family with the goal of helping sea turtles survive at Tortuguero, Costa Rica. “Buenas noches!” A voice comes from the darkness ahead. With your eyes not yet adjusted to the darkness, and with the noise of the breaking waves, it is difficult to identify the person ahead. Your group walks on until a figure dressed in green fatigues becomes faintly visible. Francisco, a park guard for Tortuguero National Park who is assigned to protect the nesting turtles, greets your team. After a short chat about the park service’s efforts to control the poaching of turtles and eggs, you continue the beach patrol. local residents are given the opportunity to profit from the protection of sea turtles by taking tourists from around the world on guided turtle walks. The guides must go through a training session run by the Costa Rican Park Service and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) before they can receive a guide permit. Continuing down the beach, your team searches for more turtles by the light of the moon and stars. You are there for adventure, but you are also now part of CCC's 40- year effort to study and protect the turtles of Tortuguero. Soon, you encounter another group of people on the beach. This time it is a local tour guide and a small group of tourists he is escorting to the beach to see nesting turtles. You tell the guide about a turtle a short distance down the beach that is just about to lay her eggs. Know- HOW IT ALL BEGAN The Atlantic green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, threat- ened from over hunting, nest poaching and loss of nesting habitat, was placed on the endangered species list in 1978. But the plight of the green turtle was first brought to the attention of the world by Dr. Archie Carr, a renowned zoologist at the University of Florida, who in the early 1950s published his award winning book, The indward Road, describing the demise of green turtles in Costa Rica. Around this time, Dr. Carr initiated a green turtle research program at Tortuguero. In the late 50s, the nonprofit Caribbean Conservation Corporation was formed to support Dr. Carr’s work, and the ongoing research and conservation effort at Tortuguero was conducted from then on under the auspices of CCC. The green turtle program is now the longest continuous study of its kind in the world. Fueled by the success of the green turtle program, which runs annually from June through September, CCC expanded its efforts in 1995 to include annual studies of leatherback nesting at Tortuguero. The leatherback program runs from March through May. The Atlantic green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, is threatened from over hunting, nest poaching and loss of nesting habitat. ing that tour groups are only permitted to watch the turtles once they have started laying their eggs, your group leader gives the guide directions to the turtle you saw earlier. The guide escorts his group down the beach in a single-file line, hoping to find the nesting turtle before she returns to the water. Late , your team leader explains how In an effort to financially support the research programs and to recruit additional “eyes and ears” on the beach, CCC now invites people with little or no biological experience to see Research Program on page 4 2 Winter 2000