As I trudged along the beach in the wee hours of the morning, I started counting down the minutes to the end of my “Turtle Patrol” shift. My uneventful evening had put me in the sourest mood of all time, and the only thing I wanted was sleep. Then it happened: an enormous creature unstoppably crawled up the beach and began bulldozing through the sand to create a safe nest for her hatchlings. Witnessing such determination was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. Little to my knowledge, this moment would remain in my mind for the rest of my life.
Early June of 2008, several other students and I traveled to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast and stayed at Pacuare Nature Reserve. This trip was hosted by Ecology Project International, a non-profit organization that helps students from all over the world stay involved with conservation projects worldwide. On this trip, our mission was to assist in the conservation of the Leatherback sea turtle by starting with their nests that face a number of dangers: poachers, tides, crabs, etc. Because common nesting times take place late at night and early in the morning, we set our alarms for ten p.m. to three a.m. to assist biologists in collecting information on the sea turtles and putting forth effort to protect them. Getting used to this routine was difficult, but more than worth it.
As the monstrous animal began her routine, I was speechless. While she was digging her arm-length-deep hole, I observed her determination to do everything in her power to create a safe nesting spot. She dug deeper and deeper, and when she was finally satisfied, she began laying her billiard-ball-sized eggs. Unharmed by the presence of nurturing humans, she continued her habitual instincts and eventually put did the best she could to camouflage her nest. Before returning to the ocean, she laid over 80 eggs. Of these 80, unfortunately only 10% of the hatchlings would survive, this is part of the reason the Leatherback’s population is so scarce today. In order to prevent locals from poaching the delicate eggs, our group relocated the eggs to a less obvious location and hid the evidence of mother’s arrival. We did everything in our power to increase the odds for this incredible creature’s survival.
As I gazed off to the creature return to the luminous sea, it hit me. I had just made a difference in the world. One hour prior, I was positive that the only good thing in the world was a bed, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind at that point. I tossed the last handful of sand over the newly created nest, and I thought about how incredible it was that a 16-year-old girl from the sticks (Meeker, Colorado) had just likened the chances of 80 sea turtles having the chance to see home: the ocean. At that moment, the issue became bigger than itself and I knew that I would not stop with sea turtles.
Days went by and turtle patrol continued and I perpetually grew as an individual. After working with biologists from all over the world, not only did I grow as a person, I began to map out my future. Through this experience, it became my dream to earn a degree in biology. To this day, I would like to turn that dream in to reality and continue to grow as a person.
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