From 9 to 5, Kira Watkins is a science educational publishing professional. But in her free time this landlocked surfer, conservationist and sea turtle enthusiast from Austin, Texas travels to find good waves and to volunteer with conservation organizations. This past winter, ASC paired her with the Marine Microplastics project during her trip to the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica to surf and volunteer in Playa Guiones, Nosara, and Ostional.
Kira surfing Playa Guiones. (Photo by Diego Fonseca Flores)
After walking along the beach for almost an hour, I found myself sitting on my knees in the cool, black sand above the high-tide line, under swaths of diamonds painted across the night sky. My city girl eyes were kicking and punching the powerful darkness, but all my other senses wanted to take over. I felt all at once afraid, vulnerable, and alone but connected, excited, and alive. It’s like the way I feel when I am out there surfing in the deep blue unknown. I looked in front of me and saw a large relic turtle mama building her nest in front of me. She filled her nest with soft, jelly white eggs, and then replaced the sand and “danced” on top of the nest until it was difficult to tell she had ever emerged from the deep blue. It was all so perfectly wild.
An Olive Ridley returns from her nest early in the morning on Playa Ostional. (Photo by Kira Watkins)
I finally stood up and watched her, an exhausted mom, in her frantic ambling back to the sea. She stopped every couple of meters, sometimes raising her head and letting out a gasp or sigh. As she descended the slope to the water, she met a large jagged shard of white plastic about the size of a two-liter container of milk with her snout and stopped. I saw it right before she hit it and thought I should have picked it up. But she let out what sounded like a groan or a gasp. She was finally able to maneuver over that piece of plastic.
A plastic turtle made from debris collected on the beach, washing in from the ocean. (Photo by Kira Watkins)
While these relics are strong survivors in the animal kingdom, I am well aware that many sea turtles and other marine animals are dying from different forms of plastic pollution. During previous surf and volunteer trips to beautiful Costa I picked up so much plastic debris washing up from the ocean that I could not help but be moved to tears. The primary mission for this trip, aside from surfing, was to volunteer for Estacion Biomarina Arribadas Ostional. But I decided to add a little more purpose to my adventure by joining ASC’s marine microplastics project. Collecting water samples for ASC made me keenly aware of the microplastic pollution issue and forced me to ask, “What invisible ugliness lurks in these seemingly pristine waters in which I surf?“
“What invisible ugliness lurks in these seemingly pristine waters?”. Sunset at Playa Ostional. (Photo by Kira Watkins)
Tears fall as I pick up plastic from the beach and realize the vastness, sometimes bordering on hopelessness, of the issue, running to the salty sea and surfing clears my mind and elevates me—it is my church, I sweat as I toil and work to find solutions with others in the community. As Kate Blixen is famously quoted by surfers, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” I want to defend the ocean, the place that I know to be so healing.