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Teignmouth-based Conservation Biologist helps endangered turtles in Costa Rica

PUBLISHED: 09:58 07 August 2014 | UPDATED: 09:58 07 August 2014

Alice working with the turtles. Photo by Mike Mockford

Alice working with the turtles. Photo by Mike Mockford

Archant

The Cardiff University graduate found a way of turning her voluntary role into a rewarding career, discovers Eve Grisewood

Alice relaxing on Palm Beach. Photo by Mike MockfordAlice relaxing on Palm Beach. Photo by Mike Mockford

Cardiff University graduate Alice Mockford decided to find work in the field of biology after completing her degree, leaving the safe village of Teignmouth behind and flying to Central America to find a job.

“There was no point in sitting around waiting for a job to turn up,” she explains. “I knew the best way was to go and grab what I wanted.

“Initially I found voluntary work as an Assistant Biologist on the Caribbean coast in Pacuare, Costa Rica. It was terrific, helping within the team on various aspects of the project, including nesting beach studies and to operate beach monitoring studies.

“Finally my time as a volunteer ran out and I began to wonder what would happen next. However, I couldn’t believe my luck when I was contacted by Didhier Chacon – the Director and President of LAST. He said he had heard about my work in Pacuare and would like to offer me a job as Biologist and Project Co-Ordinator in Osa.

“So here I am in my own little piece of Paradise working on the beach helping these amazing reptiles!”

At the moment, Alice is formulating the project. LAST’S work is not just for the conservation of the turtles, but also for their habitat - the whole story.

On Playa Blanca, work focuses on Hawksbill (Eretmochelys Imbricata) and Eastern Pacific Green turtles (Chelonia Mydas - with in-water studies and operating a rescue and rehabilitation centre. Since opening in 2011, more than 100 sea turtles have been treated, rehabilitated and then released back into the wild. Most of the turtles suffered different traumas or epibionts. Although Olive Ridleys (Lepidochelys Olivacea) don’t forage in the Golfo Dulce, this is still a transit area for them.

“Our rehab procedures and installations follow international best practices and provide us with 9 tanks for sea turtles. Our plan for the future is to include a hospital area to enhance veterinarian treatments.

“The in-water studies consist of entering feeding habitat used by sea turtles in different life stages to collect data about population structure, genetic origin, health status and in-water habitat use. This will help us to assess the types of threats that sea turtles are exposed to in this area. We capture individuals, tag them, take biometric data, tissue and sometimes blood samples and release them back to the ocean.”

Since mangroves play an essential ecological role for coastal ecosystems and therefore for sea turtles, a mangrove reforestation project has been implemented together with local grassroots organisations within conservation activities. In the long term this will improve the health status of mangroves and water quality in the area.

Another important but vulnerable ecosystem are the off-shore sea grass beds, on which sea turtles and other marine animals feed and which provide a living habitat for a wide range of organisms and small marine species.

“In 2013 LAST started to conduct sea grass bed studies near Playa Blanca to gain knowledge about the health status and biomass production. Two species of sea grass were found which are essential in their contribution to a healthy ocean – the main condition for maintaining biodiversity.”

Alice’s enthusiasm for her work is infectious and this shows when she is working with her volunteers. They put in a long day starting at 8am, but the people working with Alice – young or old - appeared to be totally absorbed in their tasks. Her work is inspirational as she involves others in the quest to improve the sea turtle’s habitat and survival.

If you’d like to get involved in the project or donate to the charity visit latinamericanseaturtles.org

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