Posts Tagged 'endangered sea turtles'

Going on midnight turtle patrol in Costa Rica

From Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

I’m back in the United States after an amazing trip to Costa Rica. Our last group adventure took us to Manuel Antonio National Park. Relatively speaking, the area around this National Park is pretty developed, and many Costa Ricans come here for the beaches. It has had some problems in the past from pollution from the nearby towns contaminating the streams and development cutting off access for the animals. It has gotten much better, but it will only stay that way if people continue to be diligent.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

The park has several trails that cut through the forest and end up on the beaches of the Pacific. Along the way, our group saw amazing insects like golden orb spiders, baby tarantulas, walking sticks, and huge grasshoppers. We also saw howler monkeys, crab-eating raccoons, white-tailed deer, two- and three-toed sloths, a yellow-crowned night heron, tree boa, and many black iguanas. The monkeys and raccoons have learned to steal food from the tourists on the beach, similar to the way raccoons take food from campers in our parks! If you want the comfort of an accessible park with nearby conveniences, all the while providing spectacular views and glimpses of local wildlife, this park is for you.

Bats, Howler Monkey, Heron

Lesser white lines bats, howler monkey, and yellow-crowned night heron

On Saturday I left the rest of the group at the airport and met up with one of our conservation partners for a trip to the Caribbean. Didiher Chacon, director of WIDECAST (Wider  Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network) Latin America, drove us to one of his sea turtle nesting beaches just south of Tortuguerro National Park.

This project is being run by the wonderful people of La Tortuga Feliz foundation, and Didiher has been their adviser for the past couple of years. Like many turtle conservation projects in Costa Rica, it is run by just a few staff members and relies on volunteers to do much of the work. The good ones, like this one, also actively seek support from the local community. In this case, the community employs local guides for turtle walks!

We got to the site in the late afternoon after a short boat ride from the nearest town. The staff and volunteers were all amazing, several of them deciding to stay long term after falling in love with the place and the project during their three-week volunteer stint.

Within the hour, we had discovered that one of the leatherback sea turtle nests in the hatchery was erupting and baby turtles were emerging. We helped gather them up for weights and measurements and placed them in a container for a later release. We did not want to release them in the middle of the day when the black sand was too hot and predators could easily spot them. At dusk, we went back down to the hatchery to let them go. It was a truly wonderful experience. I have participated in several nesting events, but never before witnessed this part of the process. What a sight!

After the release, I gave a presentation to the local community and project staff and volunteers on the National Aquarium’s work with sea turtles. There was no electricity at the site, so we hooked the computer and projector up to a generator for the presentation. Since there are very few sea turtle nests in our area, I mostly spoke about the work our Marine Animal Rescue Program does with rescue, rehabilitation, and release of our local species. I talked about the care our patients receive by our veterinary staff and the technologies we use for diagnosis. I talked about the time and effort our MARP staff and volunteers put in to the care of each animal and the joy of watching them be released back into their natural environment. It was easy to connect with my audience (even through the translator) because it was obvious that we were all participating in different but equally important aspects of the conservation of these amazing animals.

At midnight I joined a turtle patrol. Each night during the nesting season, local guides and project volunteers walk the beach to look for nesting turtles. In this region, it’s important to relocate all nests to the hatchery because poaching and turtle hunting is still prevalent, even though it is illegal in Costa Rica. While walking the beach, we saw a group of civil police on patrol. They were there to catch poachers. Later on, we heard that they confronted nine poachers that night and had confiscated a machete, sacks, and other poaching equipment. At first, I was comforted by the police presence on the beach, but Didiher informed me that in his two years on this project, this was only the second time he’s seen them and that they don’t have the resources to patrol regularly. In fact, their presence that evening was only made possible because La Tortuga Feliz paid for the gas for their boat.

The locals I spoke with that evening were passionate about saving these animals, but were disheartened by the continued disregard for the laws, and the inability of local law enforcement to enforce the laws. They are working very hard in their outreach efforts, for both local communities and in national campaigns, to emphasize the importance of protecting sea turtles, but as with all movements, this will take time. In the meantime, groups like WIDECAST, La Tortuga Feliz, and, most importantly, the local citizens that are working with them are providing a necessary foundation for the conservation of these species.

A salute to Jimmy & Teddy

This Presidents’ Day, join us in celebrating our two heads of state that are now residing in the Gray’s Reef exhibit at our Washington, DC, venue. Two adorable baby loggerhead sea turtles, named Jimmy and Teddy, came to their new temporary home in the nation’s capital from the North Carolina Aquarium, which is leading an effort to help rebuild sea turtle populations.

Jimmy and Teddy

The two turtles are named after presidents Jimmy Carter and Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was well known for his conservation role while president; he greatly expanded the National Parks System. The National Aquarium’s freshwater gallery represents many of our National Parks today. Similarly, President Jimmy Carter designated Gray’s Reef, in the southeastern United States, as a National Marine Sanctuary. A Gray’s Reef exhibit is also represented at the Aquarium, and is the current home for the loggerheads.

Sea turtles have a challenging life. Weighing just 20 grams at birth, they face many natural predators both on the sandy beaches where they are hatched and in the oceans where they will dwell when they get older. Loggerheads were once actively hunted for their eggs and meat, and still are in some places of the world. Because of their low survival rate, they have been classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

In order to help save these magnificent animals from extinction, we participate in the North Carolina Aquarium’s program that gives baby sea turtles a better chance at survival. Through this program, sea turtle hatchlings spend time in aquariums where they can safely grow. Once they are given a clean bill of health and an extra boost of nutrition, they are released back to the ocean.

The turtles were hatched on September 1 in North Carolina, and were brought to the Aquarium in mid-November. They have already tripled their weight since they arrived! The turtles now weigh more than 350 grams each. It is estimated that they will weigh around 1,500 grams (a little over 3 pounds) by fall when they will be returned to North Carolina for release into the ocean. Eventually, these turtles could weigh up to 200 pounds!

Under the Aquarium’s care, the turtles are measured monthly and will undergo exams with X-rays and blood work at 6 months old and 1 year old. The staff is also monitoring their calcium levels to ensure healthy shell growth. They are pole fed by the staff, who have noticed that the turtles love to steal food from the fish. They are very quick and love diving to the bottom to pick up leftovers that the fish don’t eat.

Next time you are visiting Washington, DC, stop in to see our adorable heads of state, and salute two presidents who contributed so much to the conservation of some of the most precious habitats our great country has to offer!

A closer look into turtle-mania

Our Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) team is still hard at work caring for 11 rescued Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. These staff and volunteers spend a great deal of time with the animals during their stay at the Aquarium. A simple pleasure enjoyed by our MARP team is the opportunity to give each animal a proper nickname so they can be remembered long after they are released back to their natural habitat.

These turtles were admitted to the rehabilitation program in December, when the Aquarium was buzzing with holiday spirit! Check out the video below for a closer look at our patients: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph, Frosty and Buddy (the elf)!

If you want to help us care for these turtles, you can make a donation online, or donate $5 right from your mobile phone by texting ACT to 20222.

A one-time donation of $5 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. All donations must be authorized by the account holder. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. Service is available on most carriers. Donations are collected for the benefit of the National Aquarium by the Mobile Giving Foundation and subject to the terms found at www.hmgf.org/t. Messaging & Data Rates May Apply. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting STOP to 20222; text HELP to 20222 for help.

Loggerhead turtle released, and headed south

Every Sea Turtle Counts. After a year-long rehabilitation, the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) has returned a now-healthy loggerhead sea turtle to its ocean habitat!  Over 500 people gathered on the beach at Assateague State Park for the release and watched in anticipation as the turtle swam through the waves, and returned to sea! Here is the video:

As you have just heard, to the National Aquarium, investing time and resources to healing one individual sea turtle is important because there are only seven living species of sea turtles globally, and all of them are either endangered or threatened.  When this loggerhead came to us it was unlikely to survive much less continue to propagate its species. Now that it is healthy, we have every reason to believe that it will be successful in its natural environment.

 Click here to track the turtle’s travels online! The Aquarium fitted it with a satellite tag, funded by the Shared Earth Foundation, which is transmitting information about its location and speed. As of yesterday the turtle has traveled 46 miles and is heading south to warmer waters!

The Aquarium is committed to protecting and rehabilitating sea turtles and needs public support to continue this important work. The MARP program is funded solely by grants and the rescue, rehabilitation and release of just one marine animal can cost the program up to $50,000. Donations can be made via mail or on the Aquarium’s website at http://www.aqua.org/makeadifference/marp.html.


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