Turtle Time for UNSW Biology Students in Costa Rica

by alrahmahsolutions on Sunday, 24 March 2013

Volunteer eliminating parasites (an aggressive barnacle Stephanolepas muricata) from a hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate) sea turtle, (c) ISV

In January 2013 ISV hosted a large university group studying biology from UNSW (Sydney, Australia) who gained valuable hands-on experience while gathering data for scientific research on Hawksbills and Black Turtles within Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica.

While most ISV projects require no skills or background experience from our volunteers, some projects are perfect for those with specific skills or interest. These include vet, medical, education and biological research projects which ISV now offers.

Below is a reflection from Jonathan Russel, a Higher Degree Research Officer from the UNSWSchool of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences (BEES), who recently returned from Costa Rica having co-led ateam of his biology students on a special project that ISV set up for them.

ISV-University of New South Wales group taking general carapace length and width measurements (c) ISV

From Jonthan:

I recently returned home from Costa Rica with ISV and can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life! I have done both a lot of volunteering and a great deal of travelling, but by far the ISV combo is the ultimate experience!

In my job with the University of New South Wales I am lucky enough to lead field biology courses and volunteer on a number of local PhD projects. When ISV came to UNSW to promote their program I was immediately excited by what was on offer.  I sarcastically suggested that I join the students on a project and before you know it I was signed up and loving every minute of it! I attended the Osa In-Water project, working with Hawksbills and Black Turtles within Golfo Dulce.

Injecting a nutrition solution to a sick the sea turtle (c) ISV

Our project introduced us to a variety of activities across the two weeks. Of course we spend a great amount of time “in water” using nets to capture turtles and monitor the population. It was a real hands-on experience for all participants, with volunteers getting to measure, tag and release numerous turtles daily. In between turtles we had plenty of opportunity to soak up some sun and enjoy the tropical paradise we were in.

In some cases when turtles were noted to host parasites we took them back to the rescue centre where we were given the opportunity to help treat the turtles and remove any parasites – which was a really unique experience. Dehydrated turtles were also kept at the centre and monitored back to good health with daily serum injections. All volunteers got involved at the rescue centre, helping with daily tank cleaning and water changes.

A team effort! Many thanks to the UNSW group from Sydney, Australia, who helped the ISV-WIDECAST joint conservation volunteer program in January 2013 (c) ISV

On days spent out of water we would work to expand and develop the rescue centre. We dug holes, cemented scaffolding, painted the infrastructure and built a new tank tower. The work was laborious and tiring, especially in the hot Costa Rican sun, but working as a team we had a great time getting it done.

During our project the true significance of our rescue centre was recognised as a great number of dead and dying turtles were found far off down the coast on the border of Panama. As the only established rescue centre of its kind in Costa Rica WIDECAST research assistants were called to bring back sick turtles and study them to establish the cause of these deaths. Vets were called in and it was established that illegal fishing practices had ultimately drowned a number of olive ridley’s and black turtles. To be a part of establishing such an important centre for the rescue and research into turtles across the whole region was really rewarding.

Chelonia mydas agassizii (Pacific green sea turtle) being release from the rescue center (after general rehab) on her way to the ocean. A volunteer says good bye (c) ISV

Further to all this we also planted hundreds of mangrove seedlings to revegetate and rejuvenate the area and took part in a seagrass biomass study to monitor the prevalence and distribution of the turtles preferred food sources.

We achieved so much and had a great time doing it!

Jonathan Russell

 If you are interested in leading or joining an ISV special interest trip, please contact your local ISV office.

To learn more about ISV’s programs visit our website.

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