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Leatherback Sea Turtle

     These young leatherback sea turtles will one day grow to become the largest sea turtle in the world capable of diving over 4,000 feet and holding its breath for nearly an hour and a half. Growing as large as a small car, these turtles traverse the world’s oceans searching for jellyfish to consume to keep their large bodies strong. 


     During nesting, female sea turtles will return to the same beaches where they were born because their survival is a testament to the safety of the beach in which they hatched. However, since these animals live such a long time in the wild, a lot of changes can happen to their beach within their lifetime including human development, pollution and structural modifications like the construction of bridges, oil rigs and boat traffic. In addition, humans poach the eggs of the turtles for food.


     These photos were taken in Costa Rica at Estacion Las Tortugas. This small turtle research station monitors and protects several species of turtles including loggerheads, green sea turtles, and leatherbacks. In order to protect certain leatherback nests from poaching along the eastern coast of Costa Rica, nests have to be moved to more secure locations. This is a laborious process that involves carefully studying the original nest and recreating it in an area that can be guarded. In an ideal world, this wouldn't take place, but out of sheer desperation to protect this species, this is what researchers at this research station have elected to do.

     Like all sea turtles, leatherback hatchlings emerge by the hundreds in order to overwhelm predators on the beach like birds, koatis, crabs and humans. Usually, around 1% of hatchlings make it to adulthood, that's why as many as 110 hatchlings can emerge from a single nest and run down to the water together. Once in the water, these turtles must swim away from large fish, sharks, and even more birds. 

     By working with researchers at the station, I was able to take photos of the turtles as they hatched and ran down the beach to enter the water. My technique was to get up close and personal with the turtles to get a sense of what their world looked like as they dashed across the sand to safety.

Photographer: Justin Grubb

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