By Katie Lueders, Earthwatch Intern
Costa Rican Sea Turtles was my first expedition with Earthwatch, and remains a stellar favorite 5 expeditions later.
My first encounter with a nesting leatherback occurred under a starry sky on the soft sand of Las Baulas National Park. The moon shone bright off a female's shell as she laboriously maneuvered from the ocean up to the beach to lay her eggs. We watched an ancient process begin as she body-pitted, and then dug her egg chamber. After an exhausting effort, my group watched in awe as the first eggs of her clutch began to drop. New hatchlings! New life! A nest full of new chances for the leatherback species to survive.
The sight of palm-size hatchlings climbing over mounds of beach sand, pushing their way toward the rush and pull of the ocean often pleasantly surprised us on our nocturnal patrols, their tiny tracks sprawling in all directions from their newly hatched nests.
Our nights were filled with leatherbacks young and old, scanning adult females for microchips, measuring their pre-historic bodies, counting eggs as they dropped into nests, recording data by the light of the moon and stars. We even came upon an iguana, and a horde of hermit crabs with a reputation.
Our days were full of late, lazy mornings after tiring nights on the beach, waking to have breakfast with fresh fruit plates and smoothies at a breezy restaurant, then going for a relaxing ocean swim. We came across howler monkeys, colorful birds, and even crocodiles on an estuary tour, and snorkeled on a black sand beach nearby.
On our last night in Guanacaste, our team savored the glamorous view of Las Baulas at dusk from a rocky plateau, already missing our time with the leatherbacks, learning about their fascinating lives, and thinking about their mysteries we have yet to solve.