Written by Carolyn C. of Head Royce School
Day Three: Tuesday June 17th
We awoke the next morning to a breakfast of pancakes and sweet pineapple, and ate hungrily before our main task of the day: beach cleanup. After we finished breakfast, we slathered on sunscreen and headed towards the beach with wheelbarrows and trashbags to clear up driftwood and garbage. The day was a clear blue and sunny, an occasional cool breeze rippling through the palm tree leaves and fallen branches on the side of the beach. As we scooped up bark, pieces of wood, dried leaves and seaweed, we made our way along the hot sand, the beach gradually becoming clearer. We had to clear the detritus so that the mother turtles would be able to lay their eggs on the stretch of beach, especially the ones who laid their eggs further inland. With this in mind, we spent a couple hours picking up plastic and Styrofoam bits and lugging fallen coconuts and dried plants towards the rainforest and out of the sand, until a fair amount of the beach had been cleared and bulging black garbage bags filled.
We headed back to the common area, relieved to sit in the shade and replenish our energy with more of the staff’s always delicious food. This time, it was spaghetti mixed with chicken and vegetables, and we ate contentedly as we played more word games. After lunch, half of us stayed behind while the other half departed on a boat ride, so while we waited, we played more word games. Also, a local merchant had came to sell jewelry and other trinkets, so we had a chance to pick out a few handmade bracelets and hand-carved turtle pendants to bring back with us as souvenirs and gifts.
Soon, it was our turn for the boat ride, and donning lifejackets and raincoats, we stepped into the boat and kept our eyes peeled for wildlife. After a few minutes zipping along the river, we spotted a few birds and a lizard, which darted behind a tree when we drew closer. We admired the landscape while we told stories and joked, feeling the wind against us and hearing wildlife teeming in the trees. Suddenly, it began to rain, and we hurried to stow away our cameras as the rain fell and drenched us. We spotted a sloth in the trees, as well as some more birds as we twisted through the river. We bumped along in the boat, just enjoying rushing along through the rainforest, waving to the other boats that passed. We turned back after what seemed like only a few minutes, but was actually closer to an hour, and flew back through the waterway, laughing as the spray and rain splattered against our faces and soaked through our clothes.
When we finally arrived back at the station, it was late in the afternoon and had stopped raining. We just had time to change out of our wet clothes before dinner was served: more farmer’s cheese, buried in a mound of mashed yuka, and salad on the side. We scarfed down our meal before it was time for me and four others to start the hatchery shift from 6-12.
We waited in the common area for our guide to pick us up, but after nobody showed up, we were told to go to the hatchery and that a staff member would join us. We trekked towards the hatchery in the dying light and waited. After it grew dark, and nobody showed up, two of us turned back to seek a staff member- one finally arrived, but didn’t come with us to the hatchery, just walked us there and left until we chased after him with cries of “Senor!” He stopped, and luckily two of us spoke Spanish, so it was found that all of the staff were leading turtle patrols and none could be spared for the hatchery. We were notified that two college volunteers from the other turtle rescue station were being sent to help us, but in the meantime it was up to us to manage the hatchery and make sure the turtle eggs were kept safe. The most important part, they told us, was that we remained in the hatchery and made sure nothing got in. A piece of laminated paper tacked to the inside of the supply shack told us what we needed to do: check the temperature every six hours, make sure somebody is at the hatchery at all times, check the nests every 20 minutes, patrol the beach in front of the hatchery every 20-30 minutes, remove any insects or crabs (!) in the hatchery (it didn’t explain how though), and to wear gloves and plastic bags over your shoes or go barefoot to avoid tracking contaminants into the hatchery.
Armed with this new information, we peeled off our shoes, illuminated our red flashlights (white light was prohibited, as it disturbs the turtles) and trod hesitantly into the hatchery. Immediately we spotted a crab, scuttling past us. Ivy tried to pick it up and was pinched, and it got away. “We need help!” I cried, scared to step on a crab barefoot. Luckily, we had brought plastic bags, so two classmates tied them around their shoes while another stayed in the shack. They came in, and as we examined each nest, we spotted another.
“Quick!” we cried, and in a moment of impulse, Lauren, another classmate, stepped on the crab, pinched it up with two fingers, and flung it away towards the forest. We shrieked with terror and gazed at her in admiration before searching for more. Soon, it was time for another patrol, so we walked up and down the beach, thinking we spotted turtles and realizing they were just logs.
Feeling slightly more in control and less overwhelmed and terrified, we delved into the hatchery again to check each nest, pressing our red flashlights up to each mosquito net and swatting away flies. No movement in the nests, but two more crabs were encountered: one escaped, and one was successfully removed. The two college volunteers from the other turtle rescue station arrived soon after, and after they completed their patrol, we taught them how to play ‘Contact’, a popular word game we played at mealtimes and during free time. Soon, between checking the nests, victoriously removing crabs, patrolling the beach, playing ‘Contact’, and getting to know the college volunteers, the hours passed quicker and finally, the clouds cleared and we were able to see a little better by moonlight.
As we walked along the beach patrolling, I was grateful for the opportunity to be able to travel to someplace so unfamiliar, wild, and beautiful, to help save creatures and the environment. Even though I had no hope of spotting a mother turtle, just the chance to walk on the beach at night, breathing in fresh air, the stars bright and clear above me, was amazing. Even if we were being bitten by bugs and wouldn’t see a hatching or a mother turtle, the stars and beautiful setting made it more than worthwhile. In what felt like faster than six hours, we walked the beach and examined the nests one last time. We bid good-bye to the college volunteers, whom we had come to feel almost familiar with in such a short time, even though we never even saw each other clearly. As the next shift’s workers came to relieve us from our duties, we departed the hatchery happy to finally rest, yet somewhat sad (at least on my part) to leave behind such a spectacular experience that seemed unlikely to repeat itself. I was, however, too tired to dwell on those matters, and upon reaching the cabin, fell swiftly into sleep.