Leatherback Sea Turtles Nesting in Costa Rica By Jan Yatsko

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Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Take a bi-monthly peek into artist Jan Yatsko’s daily life in Costa Rica.

Humor, reflection and inspiration are woven into her experiences that revolve around her passion for art, nature, culture and food.


June 2009

Creation is a huge beginning not a finished end.”       John O’Donohue

A month ago I witnessed ecological history.  Under the night sky and with the help of infrared light, I saw a 5 foot long endangered leatherback turtle lay her eggs on a beach about 10 miles north of Limón, Costa Rica. To arrive at this special private reserve called La Estación de las Tortugas (The Turtle Station), I traveled several hours by van and another 30 minutes by outboard boat on the only “road” (canal) system north of Limon, located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.  For the leatherback to arrive at this beach she traveled the ocean waters from North and South America until the pink spot on the top of her head told her that it was the right time of day and the right place to be to lay her eggs.  From February to June, these soft shelled sea turtles leave the comfort of the water to drag their 1200+ lb. body across the sand and dig a 2’ deep hole with her back flippers to lay up to 100 white 2” diameter eggs.  The effort is so difficult that she groans with every step.  It is a mystical rhythm dating back 150 million years.

Protected nest area at La Estacion de las Tortugas                I drew the back half of the turtle in the dark as we were not allowed to take photos with flash.

Sea turtles become disoriented and frightened by light and if this happens a female will return to the sea without laying her eggs.  Infrared light directed at the back half of the turtle was the only available means of seeing the egg laying process.  I had to rely on my five senses to observe what was happening.  I looked up and saw a partially cloudy sky with the moon peeking through.  I heard the constant and rhythmic waves behind me.  I looked real hard and under the night sky I blindly began to draw the turtle as she dropped her eggs into the nest.  I felt the sand against by face and body as the turtle used her powerful front and back flippers to cover her nest.  Then there was silence as she entered the sea.

Positive and negative intervention by man will determine the ecological fate of the leatherback turtles.  Poachers eat the eggs and meat; bright lights from development disorient the turtles; plastic bags mistaken for jellyfish (their favorite food) plug up the stomach cavity; commercial fishing nets entangle them and global warming is tipping the sexual orientation scale of the eggs to mostly female.  Private and national reserves are scrambling to reverse the accelerated decline.  Volunteers gather the eggs and place them in protected nest areas, hatchlings are protected from bird predators as they scamper to the ocean and turtles are measured, checked and tagged in an effort to learn more about their behaviors.  Even with all the effort, out of 2,000 eggs that are laid, 1,000 will hatch (50% natural/50% from private reserve) and only one will survive to adulthood.  The animal symbolism of the turtle represents Order, Creation, Patience, Strength, Stability, Longevity, Innocence, and Endurance…characteristics that are needed for them to continue for another million years.

Copy write 2009

Jan Yatsko is a very talented writer and artist who lives in Atenas, Costa Rica.  She and her  husband came to Costa Rica several years ago on a biking excursion, fell in love with Costa Rica and have been able to make it their permanent home.   You can visit Jan at her web site to learn more about her beautiful artwork www.janyatsko.com

Jan  writes a bi monthly newsletter titled “Pura Vida in Costa Rica” about daily living in her adopted country of Costa Rica.  To subscribe to her newsletters you can go to her web site www.janyatsko.com


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