Volunteering to Save Leatherback Turtles
Leatherback turtles are the largest turtles on Earth. They can reach lengths of 7 feet and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. These stunning turtles, with their leather-like appearance, mate at sea with the females coming ashore to nest at night. Once on shore they dig holes to hold their, on average, 80 eggs and then leave to return to the oceans. The rest is up to fate for these precious little turtles.
1 in 1000 hatchlings survive to adulthood
There are various organizations across the globe that are working to protect and help save this critically endangered species. One such organization is Latin American Sea Turtles. This small group in Costa Rica is working to make a change in the conservation of sea turtles. Along with research, education and working with locals they also offer volunteer projects. The following is a message from one such volunteer.
One Volunteer’s Message After Volunteering to Save Leatherback Turtles
Guest Writer: Janet Brandenburg-Gilmour
Obstacles, pointless, futile, depressing, frustrating….these are not words generally used to describe ones vacation in a travel blog. We generally see words like amazing, beautiful and relaxing…
When asked about our experience, people are confused by my responses. There are no ‘amazings’ or ‘awesomes’ injected into my stories or pictures I share. The look of shock or disillusion obvious on their faces. A look I’m sure I have worn on my own face many times during the project and since being home.
So why the heck would I write a blog post about it? Why even bother trying to capture and relay the experience if it’s filled with so much misery and negativity?!?
Simple. It needs to be told.
My husband Greg and I recently returned from our trip to Costa Rica. For 8 days, we stayed in a remote area on the Caribbean coast and participated in a leatherback turtle conservation project.
Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) operates out of the region of Pacuare, which is an isolated and poverty stricken region. The average adult education level is grade two and unemployment is rampant. Due to these unique challenges, locals have taken to poaching turtle eggs to be sold in exchange for money, food and even drugs. Ultimately these eggs are turned into soup, and considered to be a delicacy.
Each night volunteers and guides in shifts patrol the dark beach looking for nesting turtles. Once found eggs are collected and taken back to the hatchery to be buried in a nest underground. Dug and monitored by volunteers in shifts as well. Turtles coming up out of the water can easily be missed due to timing. Patrols arriving either too early or too late can mean the difference between eggs being poached or eggs being saved.
Leatherback turtles face incredible odds to survive and propagate their species. One out of 1000 hatched eggs will make it to sexual maturity, which takes 15-25 years to reach. So, in the end; after night patrols, illness, sunburns, hatchery watch, digging nests, watching poachers take eggs, sifting sand by hand and sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat, I’m left not knowing if I’ve even made a difference until I’m 62 years old!! In that 25 years, Leatherback turtles will have to overcome being eaten by predators, losing its main source of food (the jellyfish) to climate change, being bombarded by plastic and pollution in our oceans, struck by boats or unnecessarily caught and killed in by-catch nets.
So I go back to my earlier statement. Why even write about it?
Because it’s necessary.
We can no longer ignore what we are doing to our wildlife, our oceans and in the end our very selves. It is happening. Species are becoming extinct. Habitats are being lost. It is real.
We have hit a tipping point where armchair debates and conversations need to stop. The work and commitment needs to start. People tell me that we are so great for saving the world, that we are inspiring. Heck, I’ve even been compared to Mother Theresa!! lol
I write this because we need to stop relying on other people to do the hard work. That ‘someone’ will come to the rescue. That ‘someone’ will save the world. I want ALL of us to become someones. We all have the capacity to incite change. So to those who need inspiring words here are some I feel best describe our experience: astonishing, eye-opening, reflective, rewarding, unique, enlightening, mindfulness, compassion, meaningful, inspired, hope, commitment, determination, education, awareness, helpful, authentic, change, impact, opportunity.
I implore you, please be that ‘someone’ who goes out into this beautiful world of ours and makes a difference. Every effort, no matter how small, can make a huge impact. Whether it’s volunteering to save a species like the leatherback turtle or reducing your footprint in your daily life as well as when you travel, we can all make a difference.