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underwater diving sea turtle


Today, sea turtles face a myriad of threats and are desperately in need of protection and conservation. Kirsty, our Marine Conservation Researcher, has recently returned from Costa Rica where she was working at Estación Las Tortugas, a pioneering research station aiming to conserve turtles and their habitat. 

What was your most rewarding moment during your time in Costa Rica?

One night, I was particularly exhausted, my assistant (Jeffry) and I had a really busy evening. We had seven individual turtles emerging within about 300 metres of each other at roughly the same time. I spent the entire five hours of patrol working turtles individually, without any assistance. For me it was very rewarding as it showed how far I had progressed from the beginning where I never thought I would be able to work a turtle by myself, and now I was easily doing three individuals at one time.

Additionally, at the end of the season, we had a few females still nesting and hatchlings emerging on the same night from nests earlier in the season. For me, it’s really rewarding to see the entire process within one night. From watching the mothers lay their clutch, the eggs being relocated, and the eggs hatching. When you can see a direct result from the hard work you’ve been putting in all season, as well as evidence that the conservation is effective, it’s an amazing feeling.


Please may you provide an example of interesting data gathered.

This season we have relocated 318 nests and released over 6000 hatchlings in the sea. From the 318 nests, 10 were sadly poached, however if this is compared to the 100% poaching rate before the station was founded, it is a vast improvement!

In the hatchery the quadrat location where a nest is relocated range from the ocean, to shaded vegetation. We discovered the nests located near vegetation took longer to incubate, however upon hatching, the success rate was high. We believed this could be due to lower incubation temperatures in nests that are shaded, and therefore a reduction in embryos dying from over-heating.

Having existed on Earth and travelled our seas for the last 100 million years, sea turtles have major cultural significance and tourism value. A fundamental link in marine ecosystems, sea turtles help maintain the health of coral reefs and seagrass beds which, in turn, benefit commercially valuable species such as shrimp and lobster.

What have you learned from your experience at Estacion Las Tortugas?

Personally, I think my Spanish has improved dramatically and also my ability to work with, and communicate with a diverse range of people. Furthermore, I realised I have a lot more stamina and resilience than I thought, able to carry out tasks under adverse conditions and continue doing this every night.

If I had a goal for this experience, it would be to gain more confidence in the field and independency when collecting data. Previously, I had only assisted, however in this experience if two turtles emerged then you had no other option than to tackle it on your own. Initially, it is intimidating but as you work, you gain more experience. You may even need to handle turtles that attempt to lay their nest in water, or perhaps only have one flipper so you must help dig their nest.


Do you think the turtle station is well-positioned to continue protecting turtles?

The station is in a great position to continue protecting turtles in the future. Firstly, they are able to make decisions on previous data, for example where the hatchery is best placed to have the most success, or how long to wait until nests are excavated to ensure the maximum number of hatchlings emerge alive. Therefore, with more data as the years go by, they will be able to refine this even more and make the process optimal. Additionally, the presence and persistency of the project alone means poaching has reduced on the beach and they have formed relationships with the poachers. For example, one of the poachers now works at the station and helps find turtles and locate nests.

Did you have any opportunities to discover more of the country’s amazing diversity?

The station itself has some unique wildlife, there alone are sloths and howler monkeys that swing in the trees above the hammocks, as well as multiple bird species. Also, opposite the boat dock we had a resident crocodile and another in the lagoon that had laid a nest whilst we were there. Furthermore, I was lucky enough to take some time out and visit Arenal National Park where I was able to see amazing orchid plants and swim in La Fortuna waterfall, as well as visit the beautiful beaches along Puerto Viejo, Talamanca.


What’s next for you?

I have been accepted to do my PhD in Marine Science at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. I am going to continue working on turtles, where I will be using a new molecular technique to identify the sex of hatchlings from nesting sites on the Red Sea coast. Hopefully alongside this I can continue to create more content for the Foundation on marine conservation, as well as incorporate the research I will be conducting on the Red Sea.