Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

All the evening patrols are going smoothly. Our expeditioners have now split into smaller groups to search for nesting turtles during the 4-6 hour walks on the beach each night, in a race to retrieve turtle eggs before the poachers. Eggs retrieved from the beach are brought to the hatchery and we have been taking 4 hour shifts guarding the hatchery each night too. 40 nests of eggs have been re-buried already. Those on hatchery duty check every 20 minutes with their red head lamps to see if any baby turtles are emerging or if there are any ants or crabs around to threaten the eggs. For example, Valeria and Lindsay were handed a bag of eggs during their shift. They promptly re-buried them. “We took turns. First Lindsay dug the hole, then I placed the eggs in and finally we covered them together. As soon as we were done we really wanted to do it again”, said Valeria, our Costa Rican placement on the team.
Each year, the hatchery is constructed using sand from the beach under the high tide water line. This ensures the baby turtles grow in sand free of bacteria from the previous season (the salt water sterilizes the sand). Armed with shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows the Biosphere Expeditions team made quick work of transporting sterile sand from the lower beach up to the hatchery where it sits on an elevated plateau to ensure protection from storms. Others raked and stamped down the new sand into a perfectly flat area. To protect the border of the hatchery, we also constructed a chain-link fence with Eilith and Neil hammering it in place to posts constructed from tree trunks and branches. The team worked so well together that it only took two days to construct the hatechery with a perfect grid space for 500 new nests, each marked with cute turtle-shaped tags. “I really enjoyed sweating like a trooper, moving the sand and hammering the fence into place”, says Neil, now on his seventh (!) expedition. “It was good to work as a team, getting so much done in a relatively short time.”

The night time patrols mean we only catch a few hours of sleep each night, making the hammocks a popular spot for more sleep during the day, when we are largely off duty. Firday night there was a lot of turtle activity, with false crawls all over the beach. But only three turtles actually laid eggs with two clutches taken to the hatchery. “It was extraordinary, she went ballistic”, said Helen from South Africa who witnessed a turtle camouflaging her nest after she had laid her eggs..

One of the clutches was collected by myself (Lucy), Fabian and Valeria. This gave me the opportunity to trial the thermal camera that we are testing out to aid in the detection of turtles on the beach. We have been lucky with a full moon this week, but during a new moon the turtles coming out of the sea are very hard to spot. The camera was able to detect the turtle from about 30 meters away, showing up as a red blob on the screen. When used close up, it was obvious that the warmest part of the turtle was its back flippers, and once laid, also the eggs. The camera also detected a poacher with a dog, he was only 10 minutes ahead of us, so it was very lucky we spotted the turtle first. All up she laid 68 eggs and they are now safe in their new home in the hatchery.

Candice and Eilidh working in the hatchery.
Putting up the fence at the hatchery, Helen, Eilidh, Cathy, Neil and Sandip.
Hatchery work: Cathy, Helen, Lindsay, Neil, Rosalyn, Lucy and Candice.
Valeria, Cathy, Lindsay, Sandip, Helen, Rosalyn and Lucy making nest grids.
Making grids, Rosalyn and Lindsay.
Making grids, Rosalyn and Lindsay.
Sterile sand to the hatchery. Eilidh and Frank.
Valeria and Sandip having a siesta.
Poacher and his dog detected with thermal camera.
Valeria sitting next to the turtle.
The beach.
Leatherback turtle. Red/yellow area is the warmest and is the turtle’s hind flippers and the nest.
Leatherback turtle detected from about 30m away. Orange blob.

Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Our group of excited expedition members arrived at the Pacuare field station on Monday after travelling by bus and boat from San José. We all got straight into the scientific training and Fabian taught us how to collect turtle eggs, measure an adult leatherback turtle and the skills necessary to get the eggs to the hatchery where they will be placed in a new human-made nest and kept safe from lurking poachers and predators.

Armed with our new skill set we went on patrol the first evening, walking the beach looking for nesting turtles. The late night team, patrolling from 23:00 to 04:00, struck gold and encountered two turtles. One false crawl, where the turtle came out of the sea to have look, but changed its mind and went back to sea without laying any eggs. The second turtle they encountered had just finished laying her eggs. Fabian, Eilidh and Valeria measured the new mama turtle – her shell was 143 cm long, and she laid 73 eggs that they had to dig out and then carry to the hatchery. “The eggs were so heavy” said Eilidh from Scotland. It is no small feat to carry that many eggs through soft sand in the dead of night for several kilometers. Brilliant work!

Today (Tuesday) Fabian trained us in leatherback turtle nest building, so that we can also be put on hatchery duty and help get the eggs into their new homes. It is hard work to dig a 75 cm deep nest in the sand, and after our training we were all covered in sand, top to toe. A splash in the sea, however, quickly took care of that problem. Everyone is excited to get back out on patrol tonight, hoping for more turtles!

Lindsay, Cathy, Helen on the boat ride to the expedition base. Photo by Ida Vincent.
Intro and risk assessment. Photo by Lucy Marcus.
Turtle patrol training, Cathy, Valeria, Sandip, Eilidh, Neil. Photo by Ida Vincent.
Turtle measuring, Helen, Fabian, Lindsay and Frank. Photo by Ida Vincent.
Hatchery training. Photo by Ida Vincent.
Rosalyn digging a nest. Photo by Ida Vincent.

Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

We have arrived in San José, and just met with Nicki from Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST). She is excited to meet and greet the rest of the expedition team on Monday morning at Hotel Santo Tomas. Lucy and I head down to the research station on Saturday to prepare and make sure everything is ready for your arrival. We are told there are two turtle nests that are due to hatch any day now, so hopefully we will get to see some baby turtles. There has also been a lot of turtle activity on the beach with several leatherback turtles coming out to nest each night.

It has been raining here in San José during the past few days and we are told the research station has had hot and rainy weather, so don’t forget to pack for all weathers and to bring your rain poncho.

See you a few days!

Baby turtle
Mother turtle
Staff in Costa Rica (from left to right Nicki, Lucy, Ida) about to head off to Pacuare beach for this year’s leatherback turtle expedition

Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Here’s a first report of the season by our expedition scientist Fabian Carrasco:

Fabian Carrasco

The leatherback season started on 26 February with the first nesting female. Unfortunately she was poached. Later we had a nest in situ on 1  March. Her tracks were hidden by the waves in a couple of hours and the eggs remained safe from poachers. Our patrols with local assistants and international research assistants have started and in the past 43 days we have recorded 52 successful nesting activities:

* 1 natural nest (in situ)

* 25 nest relocated in Styrofoam coolers

* 9 nest relocated higher up the beach between markers 95-104

* 19 poached nests

* 1 nest saved by the Coast Guard and Police O.I.J.

Among the nests relocated in styrofoam coolers is one of green turtle (from 2 April). The others nests are from leatherbacks. No hawksbill have been seen yet.

The fist hatchlings are due between 1 and 8 May at marker 79.

Green turtle returning to sea after nesting
Leatherback turtle returning to sea after nesting

Update from our conservation holiday protecting leatherback and other sea turtles on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Welcome to the Costa Rica 2017 expedition diary! My name is Ida Vincent and I will be your expedition leader. This will be my second year on this expedition and I look forward to being back at the Pacuare field station and working together with Latin America Sea Turtles (LAST).


The field station is located just behind the beach where the turtles nest and during our time in Pacuare we will work closely with the onsite biologist from LAST, Fabian Carrasco, who will be training us in sea turtle monitoring. Lucy Marcus, expedition leader in training, will be assisting me throughout the expedition and we all look forward to meeting you on 8 May.


Lucy and I will already be in Pacuare helping to prepare the field station for you arrival, however, Nicki Wheeler from LAST will be meeting you at 09.00 in the lobby of Hotel Santo Tomas. Make sure to be on time as our first night of patrols starts that very evening and there is a lot to learn prior.

Have another look through your dossier and check your packing list, remember that your head lamp needs to have a red light mode.

Hopefully you will all have read the 2016 expedition report too, so you already know why we are there and do what we do. As you can read in the report, support from citizen scientists such as you is critical, so thank you for your support and see you in a couple of weeks!


Moving operations to Ireland in the wake of Article 50

In a new update to this blog, and further to the below, our new Ireland presence is now

Biosphere Expeditions, The Black Church, St Mary’s Place, Dublin D07 P4AX
Phone 00353-1-9695263, E-mail ireland@biosphere-expeditions.org

See also www.biosphere-expeditions.org/offices and www.biosphere-expeditions.org/non-profit.

We will retain our presence in the UK, Germany, France, USA and Australia as normal and no existing staff members will move to Ireland. However, the base currency will switch from GBP to EUR on 1 Jan 2018, as will the HQ from Norwich to Dublin.

Switching period

All of Q2-Q4 2017 will be the switching period of moving the HQ from the UK to Ireland. Invoices issued and due in 2017 will be issued in GBP, invoices issued in 2017 and due in 2018 will be issued in EUR. The base currency (for expeditions and everything else apart from experience days) will switch to EUR towards the end of 2017 and by 1 Jan 2018 at the latest.

If you are an expedition participant

If your invoice is due for payment in 2018, it will be in EUR, to be paid into the account in Ireland. Invoices due in 2017 will still be in GBP, to be paid into the account in the UK.

If you invoice Biosphere Expeditions

Nothing much should change, except that the payment origin will switch from the GBP to the EUR account sometime towards the end of 2017. We will continue to pay you in your local currency, so you should not notice much of a change.

If you are an expedition leader

The base currency will switch to EUR on 1 Jan 2018, but you can still invoice us in your local currency to be paid into your local account, so not much should change for you either.

Brexit update and move to Ireland

29 March 2017. Theresa May has triggered Article 50, setting the UK on its path out of the EU. Biosphere Expeditions is moving its HQ from the UK to Ireland to stay in.

On 24 June 2016, within a few hours of the UK’s Brexit vote, Biosphere Expeditions’ executive director Dr. Matthias Hammer, issued a statement announcing the move, saying that it “came down to a choice of visions of the kind of world we want to live in. Do we want to exist in a world where nationalistic interest, attitudes of ‘them and us’, suspicion and fear of the unknown – be it people or challenges – rule the day? History has told us where this leads. Or do we want to live in a world of collaboration, common visions, shared values, working towards a greater good, compassion and kindness? For us the answer was always obvious.”

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Dr. Matthias Hammer

There were numerous and varied reactions to the statement, with about 80% in favour of the move out of the UK and 20% against.

Now, nine months later, the move is well under way. “We have set up in Dublin, opened a bank account, registered with the authorities, etc.”, says Hammer. “Of course we will still maintain a presence in the UK, but over the course of 2017 we will gradually move all HQ functions over to Ireland. Our aim is to have the Euro as our base currency and conduct most operations from Ireland from 2018 onwards”.

“Our reasons for doing this remain the same”, continues Hammer. “In wildlife conservation especially, it is important to think beyond borders – which are human creations after all – and in terms of international cooperation. Our most successful projects are those where people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities work together towards a common goal and good. One where the driving forces are not profit or greed or protectionism or the fallacy of endless growth or the fear of the foreign, but collaboration, compassion, kindness, reciprocity and the realisation that we all share this beautiful planet, of which there is only the one. So we would like to stay part of this international project that is the EU, difficult and flawed and threatened as it may be at the moment. And, as Esteban González Pons showed us in an impassioned speech in favour of the EU recently, you have to stand for some things you believe in. Otherwise you fall down easily for everything.”

An international expedition team (on a Sumatran tiger expedition)
An international expedition team (on a Sumatran tiger expedition)

Hammer concludes that he “would like to assure our partners, supporters and friends that we are committed to our existing expeditions and partnerships and will work hard to keep disruption to a minimum. We will do the same for our participants and staff. Much will happen behind the scenes, but at the front end, changes should be relatively small and we will keep everyone fully informed about them over the next months and years, as Brexit sadly unfolds.”

Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

Here’s a selection of images of the expedition:

Continue reading “Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)”

From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

This year’s expedition is over and we have all left our cosy base in Švošov. Tomas and I dropped the team at Kral’ovany station and waved everyone goodbye when the train left for Bratislava. We spent a couple of hours more at base checking and sorting out equipment, putting some of it in storage for next year and packing the rest to be taken back. I arrived back home yesterday, dropping three equipment boxes into the Biosphere Expeditions storage facility on the way.

Before saying farewell, let me tell you what happened on the last couple of expedition days: Three teams each day collected camera traps in Rákitov, Blatná and Turecká valley. The main Lubochňa valley was surveyed once more in two sections. Another attempt of finding the green connecting trail in Raková valley failed. 😉 New on the species list we recorded a trout found near Blatná lake – frozen, unfortunately.

As usual, Tomas summarised the second group’s results after the de-brief on Friday evening: Team 2 surveyed 22 cells and 13 transects walking a total distance of 177.7 km, an average mileage of 13 km per team per day, respectively. Lynx was recorded 6x, wolf 19x and bear 32x. Compared to the week before, the number of wolf recordings is much lower. “It is very likely that two out of the three resident wolf packs have moved to the other side of the mountain ridge”, Tomas explained. The tracks that were found in Turecká valley and reports from forester friends both corroborate this hypothesis. By contrast, the bears are active, because plenty of food is available (i.e. beech nuts), so there is no reason to hibernate. Of couse Tomas will look much closer into all data collected in due corse, when writing the expedition report.

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Preliminary overall results after two expedition weeks are: We recorded 20 lynx, 66 wolf and 98 bear signs, the latter number a record in the six years the expedition has run at this site. The 8 (wild)cat tracks we discovered reveal the presence of another small predator in the Velka Fatra National Park. Nesting golden eagles were seen three times. And we also collected 10 samples of wolf, lynx and bear urine and/or scat for DNA analysis. Finally, another great result we found on one of the camera traps: Once more a lynx was photographed, this time during the day and in colour. The picture is good enough for identification of the individual, it shows the whole animal and its unique coat patterns.

So another successful expedition and a big thank-you to everyone involved in the project. František and Ludmilla, thanks for making us feel at home and keeping us very well fed at your house. Noro, thanks a lot for being a great mate & guide and sharing your plum juice. Everyone on the teams, thank you so much for in putting your time, sweat, skills and money into this project, which simply would not happen without your support. I hope you enjoyed our time in the Carpathian mountains as much as Tomas & I did and I hope to see some of you again somewhere sometime!

Very best wishes

Malika Fettak
Expedition leader

Continue reading “From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)”

From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Gone are the misty days. The sky is blue during the day and clear at night. We recorded – 8 degrees C on the weather record sheet on Wednesday morning. Although the snow is covered by a layer of ice in most places, we were still able to find fresh animal tracks on our surveys.

Martin, Timothy and I walked Čiernávy valley on Tuesday and found wolf, bear and many, many foxes. On the way out, we walked past an active wood-cutting site where a massive tree blocked. By the time we came back, it had disappeared.

In Turecka valley Saskia, Vincent and Noro found fresh wolf tracks and replaced a couple of camera traps.

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Ed, Connor, Holger and Tomas found another bear “playground”, fresh wolf tracks nearby and recorded an otter track. “Technical problems” with the snow shoes slowed them down on the way back, they said. They walked the more than knee deep snow without aid – well done guys, that’s expedition style! 😉

Noro’s team had somehow manipulated the GPS – their odometer reading was 30 km. After some discussion during the de-brief, we agreed on a total distance walked of around 35 km for all teams.

We will be collecting camera traps from Thursday onward, in order to have brought back to base all 18 of them by Friday afternoon. On the cameras that have been replaced on Wednesday we found a great video, have a look:

Besides quite a few pictures of fox, wolf and wild boar were also recorded by the cameras, but no more lynx. Keep your fingers crossed for more good results in the coming days.

Continue reading “From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)”