Published on July 2nd, 2013 | by Erin Raub0
In Costa Rica, July means Sea Turtle Nesting Season
You’re on a beach at moonlight. All is silent, except for the whisper of a sea breeze and the lap of Caribbean waves. Your guide shines a red-beamed flashlight down the beach, and suddenly you see it – a 300-pound green sea turtle climbing out of the surf and lumbering up the beach. Her back flippers fling sand and sea debris, and soon she has dug a hole to lay her eggs.
In Costa Rica, you can witness one of the world’s most incredible sights: sea turtle nesting. You can also catch the flip-side – sea turtle hatching. It’s the miracle of life, in the most literal sense, and protecting these lives is one of Costa Rica’s most important ecological initiatives. Five species (and one sub-species) live, nest and hatch here – and all are endangered. Protecting turtle nesting habitats is essential to preserving and conserving these ancient sea creatures.
July is the perfect time to take a Costa Rican turtle tour. This month, depending on your destination, you’ll have the chance to spot all five species:
Green Sea Turtles
Tortuguero National Park is one of the most important green turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting sites in the world, making these 300-350-pound endangered giants Costa Rica’s most famous sea turtle. About 22,500 females nest in Tortuguero every year, and prime nesting season runs July-October; July and August, which see the highest nesting activity, are the best months for turtle tours. Tours depart every night and are led only by licensed guides; you’ll be advised to wear black (or dark colors) and speak quietly, so as not to interrupt the nesting mothers.
Olive Ridley Turtles
Chances are, you’ve also heard about Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) nesting – the famous arribadas, when tens of thousands of these small sea turtles (70-100 pounds) storm the shores of Ostional and Nancite. Arribadas occur June-December at Ostional Wildlife Refuge, but you’ll have to wait until August-November to see them at Santa Rosa National Park’s Playa Nancite. In July, you’ll also have a chance of spotting Olive Ridleys at Playa Junquillal (July-November), Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge (June-November; peak September-November), and Camaronal Wildlife Refuge (year-round).
Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are one of the world’s most impressive creatures, often reaching a massive 6 feet in length and 1,200 pounds. In addition to their size – leatherbacks are the planet’s largest marine turtle – these reptiles stand out for their leathery shell, which is rubber-like, not hard, in consistency. In most of Costa Rica, leatherback turtles, which are nearly extinct in many parts of the world (the IUCN Red List labels them endangered), nest October-May, but you’ll have a chance to spot them year-round at Playa Camaronal, just south of Samara.
The critically endangered hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), named for its hooked beak (similar to a hawk), is more difficult to spot due to its endangered status. If you’re lucky, you may see these magnificent animals on the shores of Tortuguero (March-October), Cahuita (April-October), and Ballena National Marine Park (May-November).
Small populations of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) appear in Tortuguero around July-October. The world’s largest hard-shelled turtle, these marine reptiles can reach up to 440 pounds and over three feet long.