Idyllwild Arts Academy graduate Sable Summerfield recently helped rescue a green sea turtle from poachers in Costa Rica. She volunteered at the Cano Palma Biological Station in Tortuguero National Park to assist with the work they do for turtle research and conservation.
A local individual discovered a huge green sea turtle bound, turned on her back, ready to be slaughtered by poachers. The individual located Summerfield and two other research partners, who immediately followed the individual on his motorbike to the location of the sea turtle. The individual led them part-way down a trail when he pointed in a direction, then fled.
“This is sketchy,” Summerfield thought at the time. “Why didn’t he stay and help?”
After about a minute of walking through the dense brush with a barely detectable path, they found the sea turtle flipped on her back with her fins tied together. This particular green sea turtles was approximately 4 feet long, about 400 pounds and maybe 60 years old, according to Summerfield.
Summerfield had brought her knife with her that day, something she does not normally do, but something told her to bring it that day. The group was able to flip the turtle over and with the knife, cut the ties. They had to use the knife to cut the brush away so the turtle could get back out to the sea, which took about 15-20 minutes. They were only about 15 feet from the sea at that point.
“The most beautiful moment was when she got out to sea, then breached, threw her head to take a breath, then disappear,” said Summerfield of the moment. Once the turtle was safe in the sea, the team then started to cover the tracks.
The turtles are poached for a couple of reasons — one, for the eggs and two, for the meat. One of the main jobs of the research and conservation group is to cover up the nests and make them look older than 48 hours. Once the eggs are 48 hours old, the likelihood of the poachers coming after the eggs significantly reduces. The eggs are sold on the black market.
The poachers will find the turtles and hide them to sell their meat. They flip them on their backs and tie their fins together so they cannot get away. Once the poachers secure a buyer for the meat, they return between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. while the night and day patrol transitions are occurring to collect the turtle, according to Summerfield. They keep the turtle alive so that the meat is as fresh as possible. When Summerfield and her partners found the turtle, her eyes were bugging out of her head. Once the turtle was flipped over, Summerfield said she were relieved to see the turtle’s eyes go back in a bit.
Sable the nature girl
A resident of Idyllwild since 2004, Summerfield attended Idyllwild School and Idyllwild Arts Academy. Summerfield is now 20 years old and studying environmental conservation at Santa Barbara City College. She hopes to transfer to University of California, Los Angeles to study geography and environmental studies.
You can follow Summerfield on Instagram (@sablethenaturegirl) and YouTube (SableTheNatureGirl) for tips and videos on how to do your part in saving the environment.