The beach is comprised of brown sand that runs directly into the thickest jungle imaginable. The water is murky from the jungle silt deposited by the rivers just north of the beach, and there was a constant 20mph wind coming directly off the Atlantic. I set my tent up under a hand-built hut with no walls and took a tour of the camp.
There was one main hut, which served as the kitchen and gathering place. There was no power so everything was cooked over a fire pit. Rain water was used for food preparation and for drinking, and ground water was brought up in buckets from pits dug in the sand for bathing. There was a little shack built around the latrine hole and a three sided blind for when you were rinsing off or changing. That was pretty much it… my home for the remainder of the trip.
For the most part, sea turtles only come on shore to nest at night, so I knew I’d be staying up late. The leatherbacks at Shell Beach almost always come up just before high tide, which was around 2:30 in the morning. I can’t begin to describe how amazing the sky looks at night. There is no source of artificial light anywhere near the beach, and the night sky looked like a celestial chart in an astronomy book.
Armed with flashlights and a clipboard, I started my patrol, and within about 50 yards of camp came across my first leatherback sea turtle.
Check back Monday for the conclusion of this series. Dan Wright is a human resources manager at Conservation International.