By Keithlyn Rankin
This was my visit to Cabuyal beach working with The Leatherback Trust (TLT), the first time as an intern and then as a research assistant and both times I have learned a lot about working in the field with sea turtles. I am very grateful to Bibi Santidrian and her team for the opportunity to do an internship as a university student in 2020 and now in 2021 / 2022 with the scholarship from the SEE Turtles Inclusivity Fund.
TLT is an organization that works hard on the conservation of sea turtles; the programs they have with interns, assistants and volunteers are very accessible and the work done is of the utmost importance. The place where I was working, Cabuyal, is not well known by people outside of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province but it is an important nesting beach of the olive ridley sea turtle. Although TLT focuses on leatherback sea turtles, data is also taken from the other species that visit the beach and I noticed that the population that nests the most is that of olive ridley turtles; green turtles and leatherback turtles also arrive. In this season we had very good numbers of new turtles compared to previous years; the visit of turtles was quite positive, until February that I was at the station there were a little more than 40 green turtles, 3 leatherback turtles, and many olive ridleys. This data makes clear the importance of this nesting beach in Costa Rica and the active dynamics of the population in this area of the Pacific.
In these months I shared with several of the people who live on or near this beach and it was interesting to comment on the anecdotes and stories, on the doubts and concerns generated by the behavior of sea turtles and on other issues that came to the fore. One day, a nest of olive ridleys turtles hatched during the afternoon, and the children who live near the beach grabbed the little turtles and took them to the station, a very good sign that shows the care they have with these animals. The clever children took the buckets they had at home and put sand inside, then they placed the little turtles and took them on quadricycles to the house where the biologists were; that night we released them to go to the sea. These actions demonstrate the community's interest in the welfare of the turtles. As a scientist and researcher, I believe that it is important to get involved with the people of the communities and learn from them while we teach them some management techniques and talk to them about the science, in such a way that together we can achieve a common goal, the conservation and care of sea turtles during their development and nesting process.
Other moments that I enjoyed during these months in Cabuyal were the girls' days. I remember that during the patrols and the censuses (daytime walks to count the tracks of the turtles that came out at night), I laughed a lot with my co-workers, sharing about the cultures of our countries. I practiced my English and we tried to save everything that we found along the way. Once with Heni, a friend from Germany, we saw a half-dead fish that was out of the sea, first we wondered if it was alive or not, so we touched it with a stick and the fish jumped. With the same stick I tried to put it back in the ocean, but that was not giving much results. The fish kept moving for a while and in a moment of desperation I put on a latex glove, took it by the tail and threw it into the sea. I looked at my partner again and we both celebrated. Yeei! We did it! But then I saw the fish again and it was floating on its side, it wasn't swimming, we stayed for a while to see what happened and well, we think it died because it never swam. The point of this not so happy story is that during work outings with the girls I had a lot of fun and learned from them too. I was with four Europeans, from Catalonia, the Basque Country, Germany, and Switzerland and also with Ticos (Costa Ricans) from Curridabat and the Zona de los Santos. These collaborations in organizations of this type allow you to meet people from different places and that has greatly enriched my personal life; I have made new friends and friends that I would like to be for life.
Thanks to this scholarship, I was able to actively participate in Cabuyal, be a patrol leader, train and accompany volunteers in their first encounters with sea turtles, and carry out various jobs in the field, such as excavations, taking the temperature of the sand at different depths and daytime censuses where the traces of the previous night are counted. All these activities are experiences that I acquired and hope to pass on in the next conservation projects in which I participate. During my stay in Cabuyal, I found moments of tranquility; sometimes I just sat down to watch the sun go down while the sky was completely painted orange or I got lost in the starry sky during the breaks of the night patrols, contemplating the constellations and the stars. Cabuyal is a beautiful beach during the day and at night; it is a charming place and when you add the sea turtles it makes it a magical place, even with the limitations that it presents such as the lack of telephone signal and the limited access to the "city.” Being in a place like this, these comforts of the city are not missed. I established many friendships in this place, thanks to technology I am now in contact with these people, however it is wonderful when you meet people who share the same love and some even the same passion for caring for sea turtles. It was quite a pleasant time and I am very grateful for it.