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I have always had the desire to witness turtle season in Costa Rica and to see a sea turtle laying her eggs. The nesting season for Green Sea Turtles in Tortuguero is from mid-June to October. Not wanting to miss a thing, I decided my first Costa Rican adventure was to be at Tortuguero National Park.
Thousands of Green Sea Turtles return every year to lay their eggs here. They know when their turtle season in Costa Rica is! This, in fact, is a great success for turtle conservation as the species neared extinction in the 1950s. Many of the turtles were killed for their meat, oil, skin and eggs. Over the years, the villagers have seen the long-term value in eco-tourism. Becoming a tour guide, for instance, is more profitable than hunting turtles and tourism is booming.
Turtle Season In Costa Rica | What To Expect
Find and pay for a tour, as you can only see the turtles laying eggs with a certified tour guide. You will be given a specific viewing time. We were given a block of time from 10 pm until midnight. We met on the porch of our hotel, all decked out in dark clothing (mandatory) with our headlamps. Let’s be honest here. It is so hot and humid there were rivers of sweat running under my dark long-sleeved shirt. We traipsed after our guide until we reached the gates of Tortuguero National Park.
Tour | Waiting in the Dark
We were directed to benches in the pitch dark where a National Park ranger used his flashlight to check our guide’s credentials and then viewed our previously purchased park passes. It felt like a covert operation was under way! All in the name of turtle conservation – YAY!
The guides radioed each other back and forth to communicate when and where there were turtles coming ashore to lay eggs. As we headed to the beach, it was imperative that our flashlights were off and we silently follow the guide who was using a red light. Those of you who know my weak ankles and terrible night perception would understand my worry as I literally stumbled onto the beach in complete darkness after our guide. I had visions of rolling an ankle and tripping into a turtle nest. Luckily, there was no such drama.
Watching Green Sea Turtles Lay Eggs
Very quickly we found a turtle laying her eggs. I dropped to my knees and found myself right at the edge of the hole she had dug right where the eggs were coming out. Apparently, turtles go into a trance as they are laying their eggs (smart females) and are unaware of the humans watching them. I was entranced as one after another glossy white ping-pong sized egg dropped into the hole. She laid about 40 eggs and when done, started to cover them over with sand. The way she used her flippers was remarkable. Kind of like a human hand – digging the sand, spreading it and patting it down. We only saw her use her back flippers because once she turns around she uses her much larger front flippers and creates a mini sandstorm in order to cover her eggs.
We were called away from her at this stage and stood staring at the ocean. There we could see the silhouettes of turtles at the shore scoping out the best time to come ashore and lay their eggs. We also saw two turtles returning to the ocean. One moving rather slowly, most likely tired after all her efforts, and another scurrying to the water. She had evidently been scared off by a sound or an animal (hopefully not humans) and would return to the beach shortly.
It was a pitch dark night – a new moon, in fact. The stars were simply brilliant, the waves were crashing and I was watching sea turtles in action. The experience was phenomenal. Turtle season in Costa Rica is unforgettable.
Dangers for the Turtles
As Tortuguero becomes more developed turtles are drawn to the town’s lights and sometimes get off track from the beach. As we followed our guide back to town we discovered a turtle that was lost. She was quite far from the beach. Our guide radioed another guide who literally turned the turtle back towards the sea. I am hopeful she found a place to lay her eggs.
Turtle Conservation Society
The Turtle Conservation Society on the island is a great place to be educated about the downfalls and successes of turtle conservation. Many volunteers from all over the world work here. Here are a few turtle facts learned while visiting:
- Mothers always return to lay their eggs on the beach where they were born.
- On August 25, the Turtle Conservation Society encountered a green turtle that they had tagged for the first time in 1984! Since then, they have seen her 25 times, usually within the same mile of beach.
- The mother lays more than thirty eggs into her nest but only the first six or so are fertilized. The rest just cover up the fertile eggs and act as a decoy to predators.
- The female deposits several nests each season.
- All the babies hatch at the same time as they need to climb on each other to get out of the nest.
- It is critical that baby turtles make their way to the ocean when they hatch as they are strengthening their flippers.
- There are jaguars that live in Tortuguero National Park and they prey on the turtles. So far this year twenty turtles have been eaten by Jaguars
Watching nature at work was awe-inspiring. Seeing turtles lay their eggs is an experience not to be missed. Costa Rica has nesting seasons for olive ridley turtles and also leatherbacks and hawksbills. Read here to find out more. I may have to return to Tortuguero National Park to see the Leatherbacks from March to May!
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