Costa Rica Sea Turtle Studies
A Once in a Lifetime Experience, by Erica T
I have always taken the initiative to further my knowledge of marine biology because it is not only the field I want to pursue but also a passion of mine. The summer after my junior year was an experience I will never forget because I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do a summer enrichment program through an organization called Broadreach. I had the opportunity to combine many of my favorite hobbies into one trip: marine biology, SCUBA diving, traveling, and cultural exchange. Not only was that summer an academic achievement, it was also an experience that has changed the way I look at the world and at myself as a person.
I was drawn to the Broadreach program Sea Turtle Studies because it offered me the opportunity to be an intern at the most popular nesting beach for green turtles in the world and to work at the Caribbean Conservation Corporation in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. During the day I would take classes in sea turtle biology from world-renowned sea turtle biologist Sebastian Troeng. In the afternoon I would soak up Costa Rican culture and SCUBA dive, and by night I would go out on the beach to work with sea turtles. I knew it would be the perfect summer internship.
On July 12th, 2005 I left my house for a month for what I hoped would be the best summer of my life. As I walked to my airport gate all alone, I could feel my heart racing in anticipation; full of paradoxical feelings of worry and excitement at the same time because I was thrusting myself into a new country with new people I had never met before. After a five hour flight, a four hour bus ride, and a two hour boat ride, I arrived in the village of Tortuguero. I was struck most by the lushness of the rainforest and the abundance of toucans and monkeys as my group of twelve students and two advisors drifted down the river to our dorms at the CCC. In the weeks that followed we learned sea turtle biology inside and out, took a midterm and final exam, wrote three data synthesis papers from hypotheses we came up with, and recorded our findings.
To study the nocturnal turtles we had to become nocturnal. Our shifts were from eight P.M. to midnight, midnight to four A.M., and six A.M. to ten A.M. Collapsing in my bunk at four thirty after a shift was well worth it to have shared the beach with only nesting turtles for twelve miles. Typically my job would be to tag the turtles to identify them, measure their shell, (carapace,) length, and check them for any diseases. One of my most memorable shifts was a night where the moon was so bright I could see my shadow on the sand. I was working with a turtle when she began to lay her eggs. My job was to lay flat in the sand and hold my hand beneath her egg chamber to count the number of eggs laid. The moment was peaceful and mystical, and at that moment I felt that I was connected to the turtle and to the sea.
Besides the academic success of my internship, I learned so much about myself as a person and how I see the world. Whenever my group had free time we would go into the town of Tortuguero. One afternoon we spent a day with the local high school to do a beach clean-up community service project. No one was really sure what to expect, especially me who didn’t speak any Spanish. The first few minutes were sufficiently awkward; each group of teens was equally uncertain and shy. Gradually the ice was broken and together we picked up trash and communicated with each other without saying any words. After we had finished cleaning, a pick-up game of soccer started and everyone joined in regardless of ability. I wondered how we could be so different, yet so alike. That night some locals taught my group how to salsa dance. I followed by example as I watched their bodies sway to the beat. I was genuinely moved by the fact that even though few words were spoken, I could relate to Costa Rican teens with something as simple as salsa music, a smile, a gesture, eye contact, or a high-five.
That summer my whole outlook on life changed. I confirmed that I want to become a marine biologist because I enjoyed the hands-on sea turtle work so much. I learned to see the world with both eyes and to appreciate the beauty of nature and the connections that humans can have with nature. I discovered that communication isn’t limited to spoken words. I created friendships and bonds that will last a lifetime. Lastly and most importantly I started to become aware of my place on the earth, the way I want to live my life, and the kind of adult I want to become.
- Erica Towle
Signing off, Erica T