I recently spent a week volunteering at the Sea Turtle Conservatory (STC) in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. This small town prides itself in being home to the largest Sea Turtle population in the Western Hemisphere. The individuals at the conservatory dedicate themselves to protecting endangered species of Sea Turtles in the area, such as Greenback, Leatherback, and Hawksbill Turtles. These turtles, some of the most ancient life forms still in existence, are now threatened by extinction because of the haphazard hand of man. Not only do factors such as pollution and litter affect their well being, but poachers are also out there willfully attempting to undo the good work that conservatories such as the STC are doing. In Costa Rica, turtle eggs are perceived as an aphrodisiac, which creates a black market demand for these freshly laid eggs. On top of that, poachers can profit from the turtle meat and shells, which are used to create jewelry.
My experience volunteering was thoroughly frustrating. Each week, we would patrol the eastern beach of Costa Rica, attempting to facilitate turtles with the laying of eggs and monitoring their travels by tagging them. Our very presence deterred poachers that patrol the same beach for significantly less righteous reasons, but I soon learned how little we were helping. In our one-week stint at the conservatory, I saw only one Hawksbill Turtle after 30 hours of walking up and down the beach that totaled to about 60 miles worth of patrol work through the soft, Costa Rican sand. I have been informed that at the same location, 2,400 turtles were counted on a single night. As we encountered our single turtle, poachers were already attempting to drag it off of the beach just as it was preparing to go into labor. Our presence scared them away and we were able to tag the turtle and assist it through the birthing process. By the time I had woken up 6 hours after this incident, the volunteers checking nests in the early morning had discovered that a poacher had already stolen all of the eggs. The service work was physically, mentally, and spiritually distressing. We as volunteers felt so small, trying to undo the infinite blunders of mankind in a short week. As I return of America, the home of excessive living and wasteful lifestyles, I wonder what good I did to help. There was simply too much to be done, too much to be undone.