Sea turtles are the source of great fascination for
nature lovers and children alike.
Therefore, the desire to watch them up close and possibly even touch them is quite understandable. This remarkable opportunity is available in various regions throughout Costa Rica.
Costa Rica’s beaches host the breeding grounds for several species of sea turtles: Green, Leatherbacks, Carey and Lora which all continue their ancestors traditions in returning to the same shores where they were born to lay their eggs.
Sadly, all of these species are now under strong environmental pressure and at a high risk of extinction. As a result, one must be mindful while observing their breeding habits and take extreme caution to prevent further negative impact on their survival capabilities.
The following is a list of precautions that must be taken for different circumstances.
1) When diving:
It is truly an incredible experience to watch sea turtles underwater. Their smooth movements are like a symphony of peace and harmony, a rhythmic dance that appears to be saying, “Take life calmly…”
Normally they will come close without fear, but please do not fall into the temptation of touching them or wanting to clean the algae from their shell. In fact, the algae you see helps them to stave off infection and is very necessary for their well being.
Of course, one should never grab them or try to ride them, even if it is just briefly to take a picture with them. Also, one should not position themselves right in front of them as this may interfere with their route or the direction in which they are moving.
2) On the nesting beaches:
The female marine turtles arrive during high tide when the moon is full seeking warm sand to lay their eggs in.
Before they dig their nest, the turtle lays her body over the sand forming a bed and then starts to dig a hole in the sand with her rear fins.
When she finishes the nest, the turtle falls into a “trance like state” and begins to lay her eggs. The eggs are still soft at this point; they fall together with a mucous liquid, which in addition to acting as a lubricant performs an antibacterial and fungicidal role. Once this is completed, she covers the nest and sometimes walks in circles around it to disguise the prints and diminish the risk from predators.
The best place to observe this sublime spectacle is at one of Costa Rica’s many sheltered areas where the turtles are properly protected and guides are available to teach you and help ensure that your presence will not negatively impact the species.
The principal precaution when visiting the nesting grounds is to prevent noise and bright lights, which can scare the turtles and cause them to return to the ocean without laying their eggs. The use of “flash” is absolutely prohibited in the nesting area and cars and quads are definitely not allowed on these beaches.
All the lights used at these locations must be red lights, which the turtles cannot see and therefore will not confuse or disorientate them. It is also important to walk on the wet parts of the beach, so you will not interfere with the nesting that takes place higher on the dunes or with the exiting of the baby turtles from the nests. Observation of this process must take place behind the turtles, to ensure that one does not obstruct the path between the ocean and the nest. Guides will direct you to keep silent and squat down several meters away to ensure minimal impact. Remember, always go with a qualified guide and follow the rules established by the park.
3) From a boat
When out on a boat on the Northern Pacific, it is a frequent occurrence to witness turtles mating. When turtles mate they float adjoined at the surface of the ocean.
It is important not to get very close, to turn off all motors and to never, ever, jump in the water. The male takes time impregnating the female and if scared, it will interrupt the process, which will result in lower production of eggs.
If you stay on the boat, they will not go away and they can be observed better and for a longer period of time.
How do marine turtles reproduce?
turtles reach their sexual maturity between 6 and 14 years old,
depending on the species. The joining with the male always takes place
in the ocean, normally at a big distance from the coast and many
kilometers away from the beaches where the eggs will be laid. The eggs
will take 3 weeks to form inside the female after the time of copulation
and following a long journey through the ocean, the female returns to
the beach where she was born to lay her eggs there.
on the chosen spot, the turtles dig a hole 40 cm. to 60 cm. deep, where
they will deposit between 50 and 200 eggs. They will later cover the
nest with sand, erase their tracks and then return to the ocean without
ever seeing their offspring. Between 40 and 70 days later the young
turtles will be born and as soon as they are barely out of their nest,
they will initiate their run in search of the ocean, hoping to escape
from the assorted predators that await them, both on the shore and in
Of the 6 species of marine turtles left in the world, 4 come to lay their eggs on the beaches of Guanacaste. This has been going on for millions of years.
Oliva Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), Carey (Eritmochelys imbricata), Green(Chelonia agassizzi) and the giant Leatherback(Dermochelys coriacea).
However the only species that comes in waves of big arrivals is the Oliva Ridley, the smallest of the marine turtles.
Where in Guanacaste?
*Ostional Wildlife Shelter to see the 4 species.
Ostional Local Guides Asociation:(506) 2682-0430/ Refugio Nac. de Vida Silvestre Ostional: (506) 2682-0400
*Parque Nacional Las Baulas: The place to meet the giant Leatherback. Tamarindo Local Guides Asociation (ACUATAM): 2653-1687
Oliva Ridley ( Lora), Green and Carey come all the year around, but the last 2 only in little amounts. The giant Baula from October to April.
By the way... Did you ever got that mail about terrible things happening to turtles in Costa Rica? Check this article to get the whole picture.
Email of shame or not?
For more information, visit: www.pretoma.org