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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Pacuare Nature Reserve, Costa Rica

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Pacuare Nature Reserve, Costa Rica
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Registered: December 2013
City/Town/Province: Duvall
Posts: 1
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For my Apprentice Ecologist Project, I travelled to Costa Rica and worked at the Pacuare Nature Reserve, which is run by the Endangered Wildlife Trust. The reserve was started in September 1989 when John Denham bought 800 hectares of land between the Caribbean coast and the Tortuguero Canal. I was fortunate enough to be at the reserve at the beginning of the turtle season while John and his wife, Hilda, were there as well. They taught me a lot and were very interesting to talk to. While on the reserve, I reported to my supervisor, Alvoro, and I preformed a variety of tasks including beach cleaning, recycling, night patrols, painting, weeding, and making a turtle hatchery. All of these tasks are beneficial to the biologists at the reserve, the environment, and the turtles and their eggs. Each job was difficult and interesting in its own way. Some involved manual labor, while others involved attention and patience.
One example was when Hilda invited me to volunteer at the reforestation project. This is 250 hectares of land that is located on the other side of the Tortuguero Canal and was donated to the charity in 2008. It is used as a buffer area between the reserve and the banana plantations. This area of land was previously used for cattle ranching, so the original forest was destroyed. Over the past five years, the Endangered Wildlife Trust had planted trees that are native to Costa Rica, aiming to recreate the original jungle. When we arrived to this land, the first thing we saw was a crocodile running through the grass. I was a bit scared, but Hilda did not seem to think anything of it, so I continued into the forest. Our job was to weed around the existing trees, giving them space and nutrients to grow. Before we started weeding, someone warned us, telling us to put our foot down into the grass before our hands, because there might be snakes down there. This freaked me out, but I still had to continue my job. At this point we are in the middle of the jungle, and I had never been more hot or exhausted in my entire life. The final straw was when I walked by a plant, glanced at it, and saw a spider larger than my fist. I wanted to scream, but I had to contain myself. Thankfully, Hilda wandered over to me and decided that it was time to go home. I was glad, but even though it was a tiring day, I could actually see the difference that I had made, so it made it worthwhile.
Other than all the animals around me, the main challenge while working was the environment, both physical and cultural. I was located on the Eastern side of the country, between the Caribbean Sea and the Tortuguero Canal. The weather was hot and humid, and there were bugs and mosquitos everywhere. Although the work was enjoyable and meaningful, it was also very tiring. This taught me to be more appreciative of the people who perform these types of jobs every day. It was difficult to communicate with people at times, but it was exciting to learn new things through a combination of English, Spanish, and gestures. These challenges were hard to overcome, but they helped me to learn and experience new things while helping others at the same time. Not only did I learn about the culture and language, I learned an immense amount about endangered animals, especially Leatherback Sea turtles, and how much they need our help.
These sea turtles can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and measure up to six and one-half feet in length. They are the largest turtles and one of the largest reptiles in the world, however the turtles and their eggs are being harvested, threatening the population. Before the reserve was established, 98% of the eggs were poached. Today, that number is down to less than 2%. One of the things I did while volunteering was go on night patrols. There are four patrols each night, the first one starting at 8:00 and the final one ending at 2:00 in the morning. I walked with a biologist and other volunteers down three and one-half kilometers of the beach in the pitch black, lasting for 4 hours. We had to wear long, dark clothing to blend in with the dark, and no flashlights were allowed because the turtles are sensitive to light. There are three reasons for the patrols. The first is to keep the poachers away. These people are not aggressive, so when they see people on the beach, they stay away. The second reason is for research. If there are turtles coming up on shore, the biologists measure their size, count their eggs, and mark the location of the nest. The third reason is to relocate the nest if needed. Leatherback Sea turtles are not great mothers. They lay their eggs up and down the coast of North and South America, and they do not stay to watch them hatch. Their carelessness requires the biologists to move the eggs farther away from the water or into a deeper nest. The night patrol is a huge part towards the survival of the species in this area. This one reserve is making a difference in the entire turtle population. With the help of volunteers and biologists, an actual impact is being made, and it makes me proud to know that I contributed to this impact.
This was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and there was not a boring moment while I was there. Volunteering in a foreign country taught me a lot. I learned that I can live with less, I realized the satisfaction of helping the people, turtles, and community, and I leaned a lot about Leatherback Sea turtles. I learned that I am capable and independent, and I discovered that even a small job, such as walking along the beach or weeding around trees, can make an impact in the success of an entire species.
Even though the impact I made was small, it combines with the impacts of others to make a difference in our world. My experience was insignificant in the world as a whole, but it was important as well. It was important to the turtles, to the environment, and to the people of Costa Rica. By telling my story, I continue to make an impact, encouraging people to volunteer, and making them aware of the animals around us and how our seemingly insignificant efforts will truly help.

For more information about the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Pacuare Nature Reserve in Costa Rica, please visit:
Date: December 31, 2013 Views: 5681 File size: 16.6kb, 1466.3kb : 1944 x 2592
Hours Volunteered: 60
Volunteers: 2
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 47
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 800
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