Hi! My name is Mr. Bergstein. Please travel with me to Costa Rica to study Sea Turtles!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Biologists

The Goldring Marine Biology Station in Playa Grande, Costa Rica, is run by an incredibly enthusiastic and dedicated group of young scientists who are at various stages of their careers. Every day the list of chores and responsibilities that need to be attended to would wear out the most energetic of us. These folks greet each day with enthusiasm and gusto.

Dr. Frank Palandino, Purdue University in Indiana, started this project twenty years ago, but is still heavily involved with the overall operation. He stops down every once in awhile to see how things are going and to spend time doing the thing he loves.

Tera Dornfeld, a graduate student at Purdue University, and originally from Minnesota, has been working on this project for the past four years, but has been running the day to day operations this season. Her responsibilities include everything from determining the daily assignments to coordinating logistics to making sure there is enough food for the volunteers. Her bubbly personality makes it clear that she is incredibly dedicated to the work she is doing.

Celine Campana, a veterinarian originally from New Zealand, is mostly in charge of excavating nests that have already hatched. The number of hatchlings from each nest as well as what happened to the unhatched eggs needs to be determined. She has been on the project for three months, coming over from Greece, where she has been working with loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean Sea for the past six years.

Nathan Robinson is from the UK and responsible for taking the temperatures of the existing nests on the beach. This takes a few hours and involves walking from one end of the beach to the other, uncovering the thermacouple, opening up the film canister, reading off the number of the nest (146 at last count) plug in the thermacouple reader, read off the temp, unplug the the reader, close the film canister, and cover it all up. Sound simple. It is, but try it a hundred times on a hot, sunny afternoon. He is in the process of applying for school to get his PhD.

Kim Gieras, a graduate student at Purdue University, and from Indiana as well, has been here only a month. She helps out with the temperature readings by starting at the north end of the beach and meets Nathan somewhere in the middle. She’ll finish out this season and then head back to Purdue to finish up her degree.

Christine Figgener, originally from Germany, but now living in Costa Rica, is finishing up her thesis in behavior physiology and animal ecology at the University of Wuerzburg, but has been working for the past four years with leatherback turtles in Costa Rica on the Caribbean Sea. Her thesis was on the reproduction biology of leatherbacks. She is heading off to be the field coordinator for the sea turtle conservation project in Gandoca, Costa Rica which is run by WIDECAST. Her main responsibility here is to work with the volunteers on triangulating the new nests.

Jason Howard, a graduate student at Drexler University and originally from Maryland, is new to the project this week. He is getting to know the ropes as he takes the place of Christine who is heading back to the Caribbean Sea to continue her work with leatherbacks in that portion of the world.

In addition to the work I have already mentioned, they are responsible for finding lost nests through reverse triangulation. Triangulating nests that hatched the night before is very important so they can be checked every other day. Relocation of nests has to happen immediately after the laying so is performed by the person on patrol. This involves catching the eggs in a plastic bag, digging a new hole that is in a safer location (sometimes the turtles lay their eggs below the high tide line) and placing the eggs in that hole. The hole is dug in the same bottom-half of an hourglass shape that the turtle would do itself. Repair work on the hatchery is also quite necessary as the raccoons are quite a pest around here.


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