Tortuguero — the Ultimate Spot for Viewing Nesting Sea Turtles
A recent feature in Forbes magazine extolls the many charms of Tortuguero, the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast. Author Sherrie Nachman was enamored with the sloths, howler monkeys and toucans of this authentic hamlet, but was truly dazzled by the dozens of nesting sea turtles that return to its shores year after year. In fact, Tortuguero is the Western Hemisphere’s largest nesting site for the green sea turtle, one of several endangered species that frequent this unique area of Costa Rica.
Green sea turtle nesting period
Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are the most common species to nest in Tortuguero, though loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback also frequent its protected beaches. The official nesting season for green sea turtles is July 1st through October 31st, but visitors may witness females lumbering ashore into the early weeks of November. Turtle tours, led by professionally-trained naturalist guides, are only held at night when the bulk of the action is happening. Turtle sightings are never guaranteed, but if you visit during the nesting season, you’re likely to view anywhere from 2-5 ancient-looking reptiles with the help of eagle-eyed turtle spotters.
Evening turtle tours unveil the miracle of life
Guests are asked to wear dark clothing, leave their flashlights and cell phones at the lodge, and follow the quiet footsteps of their guide as sighting information comes in. Unobtrusive infrared lights are used to watch these magnificent creatures (some weighing more than 400 pounds!) as they use their powerful flippers to dig deep holes in the soft sand. Each female then deposits roughly 100-110 eggs, which will be incubated under the warming rays of the sun. Interestingly, the future sex of the hatchlings will depend on the ambient temperature of the sand that surrounds them. Incubation typically lasts from 50 to 70 days.
Conservation efforts to protect endangered marine turtles
The green sea turtle, like most other marine reptile species is listed as endangered and is therefore protected in Costa Rica and many other countries. The community of Tortuguero has made great efforts to promote turtle conservation over the last 50 years through surveys, tagging, protecting nesting sites, and general data collection. A portion of all turtle tour proceeds goes toward these critical preservation efforts to help maintain sea turtle populations for future generations. At present, the Sea Turtle Conservancy estimates a worldwide population of between 85,000 – 90,000 nesting females.