On-board Diary: Open ocean and a sea turtle. Friday, February 25th 2005

Author: Sandy Mason
Date: February 25, 2005



Back on the water again. Each morning I wake up at 6, forget I´m sleeping in a bunk and bang my head when I sit up. It was hard to leave Cocos but good to be moving, and there is much ahead.

Yesterday we passed a sea turtle. It is the first I´ve seen and from a distance we thought it was trash -- a dark object floating in a perfectly still, translucent sea. When we were closer we could see more clearly the turtle´s dome of a back, with a single ridge running down the center, which is a feature of the juveniles of some species. Our best guess was that it was a black turtle.

Black turtles (whose aliases include Pacific green turtle, tortuga negra and Chelonia mydas agassizi) nest on beaches the length of Costa Rica´s Pacific coast, as well as along the coasts of Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Colombia. Like almost all other sea turtle species, they are highly threatened. Egg-poaching is one cause; in these waters they are also caught as bycatch by commercial fishermen, particularly longliners of the sort the MarViva patrol boats work to control around Cocos. According to Pretoma, a Central American oceans NGO based in Costa Rica, dozens of black turtles have washed ashore on Costa Rican beaches in the last few years, dead, with injuries characteristic of contact with fishing gear. While bycatch of sea turtles is a serious problem all over the world -- sea turtles are migratory and travel long distances between feeding and nesting grounds -- the need for a solution is particularly acute around here because Costa Rica is one of the planet´s principal nesting sites. MarViva and other organizations are working to implement circle hooks, turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and other fishing practices less likely to injure turtles, as Oceana is in the U.S. and Europe, and the efforts are complementary; a changing international status quo is one of the most effective agents of change.

Today, Wednesday, there were dolphins. I wish I could say that I saw them but I was working below deck. The pictures, however, are amazing, and even listening to other crew recount the story was a point of excitement in the day.