From Mar. 20 through the 26, 19 current Mountain Vista students (including myself), one Vista alumni and two teachers, Mr. Brad Shores and Mrs. Kelly Click, traveled to Costa Rica for a service trip.
Our group landed in San Jose, the largest city within the country, and traveled about 45 minutes away from the city to Don Francisco’s Lodge. The lodge is meant for different groups of ecotourists and volunteers throughout Atenas.
The stay at the lodge was limited to a single night before traveling again to la estacion de tortugas at Pacuare Beach on the Caribbean coast.
Before going to the station, our group was able to visit a school and a butterfly farm. At the school, a group of students from first to sixth grade presented a show of traditional dances before also teaching the dances to students who wished to participate. The students in attendance from the school in Costa Rica sacrificed time from their weekends to come and perform.
The environment of the school was a complete change in culture from anything students, like myself, are used to. In total, the school served less than 80 students in grades kindergarten through sixth. While schools like the one we visited are considered to be public, they receive minimal funding and rely on donations to fund the staff and facility.
After visiting the school, we were able to drive to a butterfly farm where we had the opportunity to learn about butterflies and see many other creatures of Costa Rican wildlife. Aside from the butterflies, everyone was able to see two and three toed sloths, multiple birds, poison dart frogs and multiple other animals.
Following an eventful day, we headed to the Caribbean coast. After a long bus ride and a short boat ride, we arrived at the station where we would lodge for the following three days and nights.
On the beach, there was a 30 kilometer stretch of protected land. Within that stretch is where students and teachers worked alongside guides to help leatherback sea turtles lay their eggs. From 8:00 p.m. until 12:00 p.m. (though usually, groups stayed out past 1:00 or 2:00 a.m.), we patrolled the beach in search of leatherbacks.
Students and teachers were able to aid the turtles by holding back their hind flippers, thus allowing the guides to see and collect the eggs. Once the eggs were gathered from the turtle, they were carried back to a specific sector on the beach where they were relaid safely away from external threats such as heat, pressure and, most importantly, poachers.
Poachers throughout Costa Rica will take eggs (and sometimes turtles, though not in the case of leatherbacks) to make a profit off of items such as creams and lotions. In many countries, sea turtle eggs are also sold and consumed as an aphrodisiac.
Leatherbacks are not commonly poached for meat, but a different species of sea turtles (green sea turtles) are. Though it was nesting season for only leatherback turtles during our trip, we were also lucky enough to spot a green turtle laying her eggs.
Another important factor regarding the survival of sea turtles is climate change. Hot temperatures can seep through the surface of the nests made by sea turtles and literally cook the eggs. More importantly, temperature affects the sex of surviving turtles. Warmer sand results in more female hatchlings while cooler sand results in more males. Due to increasing temperatures and climate change, more and more female sea turtles are overpowering the total populations.
Aside from helping sea turtles lay their eggs, we were also responsible for cleaning the beach. Removing debris and trash from the coast allowed for easier patrols and will eventually help hatchlings travel safely into the ocean.
During our stay at the station, we received a tour by boat of the wildlife surrounding the area we stayed. On the ride, we saw more three toed sloths, herons and other birds, turtles and, most impressively, a crocodile (which one biology teacher, Mr. Shores, claimed to be 37-feet long, and Shores is always right).
After three days of turtle patrol, we were able to go to Cahuita to swim and hang out on the beach. Not far from the coast, we stayed in another lodge that was bursting with beautiful landscape and wildlife.
One of the most impressive parts of the trip was seeing how naturally beautiful the country of Costa Rica truly is. The rainforests and cloud forests that engulf the land are breathtaking and the beaches are absolutely gorgeous, though they were only one of many things that made the trip completely astonishing. The experiences shared between our group will forever be unforgettable.
This was the first year that the school (specifically the biology department) has taken this trip. Though next year’s excursion has not been entirely planned, there is another trip in the works.