By Jack Ewing
At Hacienda Barú we began working to save the olive ridley marine turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) in the year 1984. There were so many poachers on the beach digging up the turtle eggs that we grew concerned that no baby turtles were hatching, and the species was dying out. So we competed with the poachers for the eggs with the big difference that ours were planted in a nursery rather than sold to a local bar. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but had heard about turtle nurseries, and made a crude attempt at creating what we imagined that one should look like. We must have done something right because over 2000 baby turtles hatched in that first nursery, and we released them into the sea. Ever since that experience I have wondered where the turtles go when they leave Barú Beach.
Over time we have gotten better at making nurseries and rescuing marine turtles. With the help of numerous marine biologists and experienced turtle experts we have learned many things and gathered much data. We have measured the temperature of the nests and correlated it with the incubation time and the ratio of male to female hatchlings. We have kept records of how many nests have been rescued along with location, date, number of eggs laid, and number of baby turtles hatched and released. We have tagged turtles in an effort to learn where they go.
Olive ridleys are best known for their habit of nesting in massive groups called arribadas. However some members of the species come to the beach and deposit their eggs by themselves. These are called solitary nesting turtles, and they are what we have at Barú Beach. Recently a graduate student from Texas A & M University, Christine Figgener, working on her doctoral research project, came to the Hacienda Barú Biological Research Center to study the solitary olive ridleys. Her study included taking DNA samples and attaching transmitters to the shells of female turtles after they have deposited their eggs. These devices occasionally transmit a “ping” to a satellite, and with sophisticated electronic equipment the GPS location of the transmitter that emitted the ping can be determined, and the turtle tracked.
In early September 2017 Christine worked with Ronald Villalobos, the person in charge of the Hacienda Baru turtle rescue program, and they were able to attach transmitters to two turtles. Christine named them Faith and Shelly. The progress of these two females can be observed at the web site www.ocearch.org. There are many sharks being tracked as well so if you don’t see the turtles near the top of the list in the “recent pings” window scroll down until you get to them. As of this writing six days after the transmitter was attached to Shelly on September 4 she had traveled 301.7 miles (485.5 km) and is now in the Pacific ocean about 50 miles (80.5 km) off the coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.
After so many years I will finally learn where the turtles go when they leave Baru. I look forward to following the progress of Faith and Shelly.