It was July 23, 1959, when I joined a group of college professors and conservation supporters at the green turtle nesting beach at Tortuguero (Costa Rica) to the first official meeting of the Brotherhood of the Green Turtle.
And last week, 50 years later, I returned to the beach as a guest of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the successor to the Brotherhood. www.cccturtle.org
That first meeting was led by Professor Archie Carr, the herpetology professor at the University of Florida at Gainesville. Archie, in the 50's, had written "The Windward Road", which told of the decline in the population of the green sea turtle because of the "encroachment of civilization" (my term) upon the island beaches of the Caribbean. A New York book publisher, Joshua B. Powers, read the book. Impressed, he sent it to several friends and the result was a meeting of conservation enthusiasts where a decision was made to support Archie in his quest to protect the green sea turtle.
One result was a decision by the Government of Costa Rica to allocate a five mile beach at Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast which had been the nest area for the green turtle for thousands of years. The Brotherhood had the right to patrol the beach and set up a camp for studying the turtle and to protect the area from poachers -both four footed and two footed.
A decision was made to assemble in San Jose on July 23rd. I now quote from the Brotherhood Booklet which was published in July of 1961:
"The invitation to attend was general but not pressed because none of us knew what we should find, when or whether we should eat, or where or whether be sheltered. We assembled in San Jose as agreed - Directors John H. (Ben) Phipps with Mrs. Phipps, James A. Oliver, Archie Carr, and Joshua Powers, members Charles M Bogert, Ray E. Crist, Hugh Popenoe, Jack Fendell and Thomas Powers: Saturday Evening Post ace photographer Gus Pasquerella; Life and Time collaborator John M. Hlavacek, and Sports Illustrated staffer Jack Olson. Local members Ricardo Castro Beeche and Guillermo Cruz G. gave generous aid."
"The Board met and then adjourned to meet again at the beach. Some proceeded by air to Puerto Limon -quite a flight in the rainy season. Some went by train (I was in that party) on Sunday-a remarkable trip with great variety of mountain, jungle, rain forest, coffee, bananas, cacao, bread fruit and people.
At Puerto Limon a Cessna took three at a time, complete with bed rolls, mosquito tars, beer, soda pop, fishing gear and raincoats fifty miles up the beach to our camp in the coconut grove - the sea at our front door, a river at our back door, and thankfully, a snake-free Chick Saler on the river bank ten feet above the hyacinths. (I say thankfully, but snake catchers Phipps, Oliver and Bogert were not so happy to find not a single terciopelo.)
As we flew from Puerto Limon we saw our first fresh turtle tracks as we approached our protected area, and turtles in the sea. Finally as we flew over our camp we saw thirteen three-hundred pound mommas scattered along the beach, belly up, waiting for us to tag, each with his own silver tag bearing his initials (the tags were from Tiffany's). Fabulous, the whole thing.
This was the official account of the first meeting. My own personal experience will be continued in a future blog.