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Saving Leatherbacks in Costa Rica

According to National Geographic, leatherback turtles have existed for 100 million years. Today, one in a thousand is said to make it to adulthood. If it weren’t for turtles, ocean acidity would skyrocket and we would all be swimming with jellyfish.

Adult Leatherback Female, Moín Beach, 2014

(Nesting female adult leatherback, Moín beach, 2014)

There is a long list of factors influencing the demise of sea turtle populations. Primarily sea turtles are some of the slowest animals to adapt to human induced climate change due to rising sea levels, poaching and light and plastic pollution.

The sex of turtle hatchlings is heavily influenced by temperature. Therefore global warming is causing an uneven ratio of males to females, putting their reproduction rate in further decline.

Although sea turtles are protected by law in Costa Rica, enforcement is poor and locals take eggs which are believed to be an aphrodisiac, and sell them on the black market. Meanwhile, the egg trade has been linked to drug trafficking and organized crime. Conservationists working in Limón say they are often threatened for trying to protect turtle eggs. Jairo Mora was one such individual.

Jairo Mora Sandoval (March 22, 1987 – May 31, 2013) was a Costa Rican environmentalist who was murdered while attempting to protect leatherback turtle nests. Just before midnight on May 30, 2013, Mora and four female volunteers were abducted by a group of masked men. The women eventually escaped and informed the police. Mora’s bound and beaten body was found on the beach the next morning. An autopsy determined he died by asphyxiation after suffering a blow to the head. (Source: Wikipedia)

I have been engaging in grassroots environmentalism in Costa Rica ever since the incident involving the death of Jairo Mora in 2013 and have since sought to revive efforts to protect these turtles. Little did I know just how controversial an endeavour this would be.

In order from left to right, myself, Helen Mora, Fernanda Sandoval, Ericka Mora holding Nik and Avi Ghadish

(In order from left to right, myself, Helen Mora, Fernanda Sandoval, Ericka Mora holding Nik and Avi Ghadish)

Global Witness reported the killing of 185 environmentalists in one year and reported that between 2002 and 2014, 1000 environmentalists were murdered, Latin America being a major hotspot.

Since November 2016 I have been assisted by the philanthropic efforts of Canadian builder Samuel Adams who has played a crucial role in establishing a corporation and purchasing a property in Costa Rica to conduct our release programme.

We are relying on a mechanism that involves the regulation of sand temperature in an ex situ hatchery in order to produce a balanced sex ratio. The season consists of nighttime patrols in search of nesting females and relocating their nests so that they don't get washed away and nobody comes and takes them. We then monitor the eggs until they hatch from May onwards.

Gandoca has not been able to salvage a single nesting season in over five years. It is with the intention of providing opportunities to Gandoca's residents and educating its future generations that Sam and I created Gandoca Turtles. Our beach headquarters is suited to accommodate tourists, volunteers and a resident biologist and comes fully equipped with bathrooms, kitchens, commodities, a reception and an office for on site staff. ​​

(As the town is so remote, waste collection is also an issue. The project favours maintaining a clean and sustainable community, a cleaner beach, better fishing conditions and community recycling and awareness raising.)

Between April and July this year I recorded data every night in Gandoca, noting the severe decline in nesting turtles. Meanwhile I was able to salvage six nests. Gandoca is witnessing a record low in turtle activity however the success rate in previous years has been zero.

What could you be helping to finance? Biologist's salary, guides' salaries, site maintenance, volunteer food supplies, conservation materials and the cost of permits or obtaining permits, use of property license e.g. environmental lawyer or other.

To learn more about my last season take a look at my video diary below.

To support Gandoca Turtles you can like us on Facebook and donate to us here.

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