By Rachel King
This summer, I returned to Costa Rica to work on a project I had been involved with two years ago, conserving the sea turtle population and their threatened habitat. During my two-week stay at a base camp in Punta Mala in the Playa Hermosa National Refugee, a group of fellow high school-aged students worked day and night. In the hatchery, where nests of eggs are kept to protect them from poachers and environmental elements, we sifted the sand to clean and oxygenate it, so hatched turtles could easily navigate to the surface and have the best conditions to develop. We cleaned debris and weeds from the beach that posed hazards to turtles. At night, we would patrol the beach for miles in search of turtles coming onto the beach to lay eggs. Because it was still early in the season, however, I only saw around five turtles. On my previous trip, I saw hundreds. It was a time in the laying season called “arribada,” when hundred of turtles make their way to beaches to lay their eggs. When we did come across a turtle, we let it dig a hole and lay its eggs—anywhere from 60 to 160—while simultaneously collecting data including the exact species and shell measurements/distinctive shell features. We tagged the turtle so it could be identified again. After the laying was finished and the turtle returned to the ocean, we collected the eggs from the nest and move them into the hatchery, where their safety was greatly increased. Last year, around 7,000 eggs were saved and hatched because of our efforts.
In just the past 100 years, demand for turtle meat, eggs, skin and shells has diminished turtle populations. Destruction of feeding and nesting habitats and pollution of the world’s oceans are severely damaging turtle populations. Sea turtles, especially green sea turtles, are one of the few animals that eat sea grass. The sea grass needs to be constantly cut to be healthy and grow across the sea floor. The decline of these sea grass beds over the past few decades has been connected to the lower numbers of sea turtles. Sea grass beds provide breeding and developmental grounds for many species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Without them, many marine species humans harvest would be lost, as would the lower levels of the food chain. The reactions could result in many more marine species being lost and eventually impacting humans. One species does indeed affect other species around it drastically.
It is important to be aware of not only local, but global environmental issues. As large as an issue may seem, anyone can make a difference. A small effort goes a long way. One does not have to travel to the source of the problem as I have done, but even by simply educating yourself and raising awareness of an issue you feel strongly about does make an impact and can help create a more healthy and positive world. I am very fond of the quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” We cannot lose sight of how to become a global citizen and how our actions positively and negatively impact our planet. If you feel like something is wrong, then there is no reason you cannot create the change you wish to see. My passion for animals and our environment has allowed me to invest my time into something significant in the effort to create a better planet. I encourage everyone to look for these opportunities, even in your own community and become involved. For more information about sea turtle conservation efforts and how you can become involved, please visit www.conserveturtles.org.
Rachel King lives in Williston and is a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School.