The Pacuare River Eco Lodge is the perfect place to relax and experience the beauty of Costa Rica’s Atlantic slope. The lodge is situated in the foothills of the Talamanca Mountains at the lower edge of the biodiversity “sweet spot” which begins at an elevation of about 500 m above sea level. The diversity of fauna and flora that can be observed from the comfort of the deck at the lodge is astounding. The atmosphere at the lodge is relaxing and serene from the moment you wake up to the moment you close your eyes and fall into the deep slumber that only comes after a day of fresh air and exploration. This video captures our first morning and the essence of a typical morning at the eco-lodge.
After enjoying our breakfast, we were treated to a hike and a swim in the river. It seemed like we took the longest possible route to get to the river because it is only about about 100 meters from the lodge; however, our goal was to access the river upstream of the lodge which took us on an uphill and then downhill hike that took about an hour and a half. This gave us access to a prime location where we could hop into the river with our life jackets and helmets and drift downstream with the current. As a bonus, when we were almost at the peak of our uphill climb, we were treated with a special encounter courtesy of our guide Daniel and Mother Nature. Watch this video to see what we found.
Trimbina Biological Reserve is managed by a Costa Rican based foundation that strives to provide opportunities for ecotourism, education, and research in northern Costa Rica. The reserve is a 345 hectare private reserve with over 9 km of trails that provide access to secondary and primary rain forest. I first visited in 2010 with Ecosystem Management Technician students from Fleming College. We conducted amphibian and reptile surveys on three different trails in the reserve. Watch this short video to learn more about the experience our students had. This video is now being used at the reserve to promote opportunities for students to gain field experience at Tirimbina.
Kate, Tess and I spent five days at the reserve and we had plenty of time to hike the trails during the day and at night. We had some great encounters. The video below will give you a good taste of what we encountered after dark.
I was surprised but somewhat happy to learn that the organization was still looking for people to engage in herpetological research in the reserve. To date, most of the work has been completed on mammals (with an emphasis on bats), butterflies, and birds. This opportunity is one that I am going to follow up on with the creation of a Tropical Field Herpetology course at Tirimbina. It will be offered during the fall and our objective will be to provide training and knowledge in field herpetology while conducting research at the reserve. Stay tuned for updates.
It’s our third day in Parismina and we’ve taken it easy to ensure we are ready for our second night patrol. We have just finished dinner when I get a phone call from ASTOP coordinator Vicky Taylor. She’s distressed. Turtles have been dragged off the beach and left upside down at the far end of the patrol area near Laguna Perla. Tonight’s patrol guides, Irvin and Ruis, and two police officers are rushing there to apprehend the poachers and rescue the turtles. They’ll travel by truck to save time but will not be back to lead the patrol. Vicky asks if I mind stepping in as patrol leader with Tess and Kate. Although I haven’t lead a patrol in four years, I am excited for the opportunity and assure Vicky that we will handle anything that comes our way. Little do I know that this would be one of the most interesting nights I would ever have on the beach!
At the Leatherback Shack, I check our equipment and we start our patrol promptly at 7:30 pm. We take a break at the 3 km marker just as we had the night before. The sound of breaking branches and voices catches our attention and a man appears on the beach only a few metres away. We say nothing and our unexpected companion doesn’t either. He turns and returns to the shadows. A few minutes later, three men emerge from the darkness and head north on the beach without saying a word. We head south to continue our patrol but Kate looks back and notices someone flashing a light near where we had been sitting. I flash my light back and the mystery person responds. Suspicious they are poachers, we decide to backtrack and find out who this person is but once I arrive at the location where the light was flashing I don’t find anyone and get no response when I call out. I turn, join Tess and Kate, and we continue down the beach.
We reach marker 3.3. The tracks of a turtle emerge from the sea but do not return. We suspect the turtle was lifted by poachers. Drag marks through the vegetation to the road behind the beach confirm our suspicions. Clear pock marks from the previous night’s rain confirm that the turtle was taken after we had passed by on the previous night’s patrol. Later we find out that this is one of the turtles that Irvin, Ruis and the police officers are saving at Laguna Perla.
At marker 3.6 we observe a half moon and a few moments later, at marker 4.1 we encounter a turtle and a local by the name of Carlo. Carlo is one of only two people in town who own a vehicle and had driven Irvin, Ruis, and the two police officers to Laguna Perla. We learn that he has been waiting for their return and watching over the turtle. Her behaviour indicates that she has just covered the nest and is now in the process of disguising it. Carlo insists that she has not laid any eggs so we hang back and watch, not wanting to disturb her. A second turtle begins to emerge but returns to the sea without leaving the surf zone.
I look north and see a third turtle emerge and head up the beach. She reaches a small embankment next to the vegetation and begins to dig a body pit. Our first turtle is still mucking about and I’m more and more convinced she is disguising a nest and not preparing to lay her eggs. Before I can have a closer look, two tourists from Italy and their guide Albert approach the third turtle. I take some time to explain what is happening and ensure they do not disturb her while she prepares to dig her nest. Kate and Tess arrive to tell me that the first turtle is now heading back to the water so we all run over and I check her for tags. She is not tagged but it is too late to tag or measure her as she is beating a hasty retreat to the water. Albert and the Italian contingent keep an eye on the third turtle while Kate, Tess and I return to the first turtle’s nest to try and find the eggs. Again, Carlo insists she did not lay but I begin to dig anyway. Progress is good and eventually the hole is as deep as my arm is long but I still haven’t quite located the eggs. Kate suggests digging a little to the right and sure enough, we find the eggs.
Tess and Kate put on gloves to handle the eggs and I excavate a little body pit for Tess so she can reach them. After a little instruction, Tess removes the eggs from the nest one at a time and passes them to her mother who counts them and places them in a plastic bag. I head over to check on our other turtle and she has started digging the nest chamber but will still be a few minutes before she starts to lay the eggs. Unfortunately, Tess and Kate are still busy removing eggs from the first nest when the time comes to collect the eggs from our new turtle. I enlist the Italian team and provide details of what will happen and what they will be required to do. Eager to help, they put on their gloves and I dig a body pit for the egg handler and get her settled into place. Kate and Tess continue to collect eggs and are just putting the 101st and final egg into the bag as our nesting turtle begins to lay her eggs. They join us. Everything is going smoothly now and we are enjoying the experience of watching an endangered marine turtle nest on the beach. I note that our turtle is not tagged so I prepare the tags and tagging pliers to ensure I’m ready once she finishes laying. She has produced a total of 91 eggs and begins to fill and disguise the nest. I successfully tag her front flippers and measure her carapace length and width while Kate records the data.
We now have 192 eggs in two plastic bags and the hatchery is over 3 km away: too far to walk with the eggs. I decide to relocate the eggs and make two artificial nests. Irvin, one of the guides working with the police to save the lifted turtles, jogs up looking for tags. Having rescued the lifted turtles, they are working a nesting one a little further south. I hand him our last two tags and he runs back to tag his turtle while I finish relocating the eggs and checking the data sheets. The police, Irvin, and Ruis return just as we wrap up and we all pile into Carlo’s little pickup truck for the journey back to town.
The little truck bumps along the dark beach road around coconuts, palm trees, and hanging vines. Our spirits are high. We have accomplished a lot on this second night on the beach. Irvin, Ruis and the police have successfully located the lifted turtles and set them free. They also encountered another turtle on the beach and collected 134 eggs to be taken to the hatchery. We successfully relocated 192 eggs and ensured that two turtles nested and returned safely to the sea. Without our presence, the outcome would have been very different for these turtles.