Tales from an ARCAE research student
It has been an amazing adventure working with ARCAE this summer! For a day on the job, I headed out on the 5am bus from the small town of Punta Banco, on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, right across from the tip of the Osa Peninsula, at the mouth of the Golfo Dulce. The old yellow school bus bumped along, winding along the coast to where I meet the small-town fisherman with an impressive conservation ethic. William Mata promotes responsible fishing and ecotourism alternatives to reduce catch in the local community.
I helped William push his fishing boat down the beach and out into the Pacific. With GPS unit, a thermometer, and a notebook we headed out to systematically survey study areas located along the coast at Punta Banco and in the center of the mouth of the Golfo Dulce. We chatted and fished on our way to the set transects, discussing conservation, his life, the area, my studies, an endless list by the time we finished the project.
And then we arrived at the first point, and I focused, and began the visual survey, scanning the water. Turtles, dolphins, and humpback whales joined us on our journey, and all were marked in the GPS. I attempted to photograph the experience and the sightings, but it is hard to get a good photo of a diving turtle from a rocking boat. At the end of six weeks, I had seen Bottle-nosed dolphins swimming with our bow, Green sea turtles mating, playful Olive-Ridley’s diving quickly and swimming around under the boat, a juvenile turtle waving a flipper “Adios”, Humpback whales breaching and breathing, a fishermen enthusiastically describing the benefits of ecotourism on the local economy and environment, and the famous Pavones swell moving in through the vast blue.
Now I return to Stanford, to continue data analysis. For now, I found that the Green turtle season may extend far past March, since I saw a few mating pairs in July. Olive-Ridleys were especially prevalent in the coastal area, showing a preference for marine habitats closer to nesting beaches as they began their nesting season. But most importantly, egg poachers are out in full force on the beaches at night. Now that the Granjas Atuneras (tuna aquaculture) project has been stopped, and the local fishermen are working to extend the “Responsible Fishing Area”, the marine habitats are safe… for now. Contact Andy at ARCAE (firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out how you can help us protect the eggs and tortuguitas hatching on Punta Banco beaches, either by coming to patrol or helping support locals who wish to protect the turtles. These fascinating beings are in danger of extinction and need all the help they can get!