This was one of the coolest things I have done. We finally saw turtles nesting! After waiting three years while retired in Costa Rica, we made it happen. Seeing the mothers lay their fertilised eggs in sandy nests near the vegetation away from the water’s edge, was exciting and emotional. They lumbered their way from water to shore and back again leaving significant tracks where their flippers dug into the sand to plow themselves to and fro.
We had walked the beaches during the day and seen the impressive turtle tracks, rubberised shell remnants, and even one dead hatchling.
Later we learned that the shells on the beach were due to either being dug up by a dog or another mama not knowing there were already eggs where she was busy laboring. The babies hatch while still in the nest under the sand so the shells would be down below.
Our guided night tour, the only way one is allowed to view this marvellous event and no photography is allowed, let us see a female in her nest just as she had finished laying the eggs. She then used those strong flippers to cover and camouflage her babies-to-be. Sand was flung over them and some from a nearby nest even hit us just above the ankles.
While waiting away from the nest with a large group of humans, another mama slowly propelled herself towards us. As she seemed headed right into the other group, some of the people moved aside to let her through. Unfortunately, this spooked her a bit and she turned as though heading back to the ocean. Thankfully, she stopped and then began to approach Bill and me! Thrilled she was coming right towards us we were quickly disappointed as she changed her projectory and aimed a bit further away. Other people were squatting down and were quietly warned not to move. Amazingly, and how thrilling for those few people, she scooted right by them allowing her left rear flipper to brush against their stooping shins.
Sadly, the turtle monitors made our groups then leave as we had seen all the stages, though we didn’t actually see eggs being laid. A reason to return!
Our host at Tortuguero Adventures and his guide both mentioned that the beach is closed from 6 PM to 6 AM; yet if we wanted to get up to see the sunrise at the beach we should arrive at 4:45. Perhaps, with luck, we would see one of the last turtles of the night nesting when it was daylight. The first morning I attempted to go it was storming. Braving thunder and lightning would not have been smart.
The following morning, the day we were flying back to SJO, I did arise and quickly made my way to the beach. I saw two monitors pass by as I hid among the shadows of the palm trees, made by the street lights. Then I eased myself onto the beach and viewed a few other people strolling along. Right at 5:00 people streamed from the nearby hotel and started looking for turtles. As the sun slowly rose and illuminated the sand I was amazed at the number of turtle tracks. It almost seemed as though heavy duty trucks and been driving up from the water and back down again all night long!
After a while I turned and tried the other direction. Walking through dozens and dozens and dozens of tracks I stopped to videograph a flock of small birds. As I panned their flight a kind man told me in broken English that two men standing a distance away were watching a turtle in her nest!! Slowly but quickly I made my way over. Mama was just finishing flinging sand to camouflage her nest full of eggs and then every so slowly, resting as she went, she hauled herself back to the ocean to be carried back out to sea. Simply incredible. This was definitely cool!
Green sea turtles are huge, though not the largest turtles that visit this area every year. To learn more about them we visited the Sea Turtle Conservancy where we had a private tour and explanation.
With the temperature of the nest determining the gender, climate change will impact the ratio of males to females. How sad that one in a hundred hatchlings make to the ocean, and only one in a thousand make it to adulthood. It also amazes me they can swim as far away as India and return to the same beach of their birth.
The Sea Turtle Conservancy has worked tirelessly for decades teaching and working with the community to help them understand their economic situation will be improved due to tourism inspired by the turtles than by harvesting the creatures and their eggs to put food in their bellies. The STC also collaborates with the government to protect the turtles from poachers; trains scientists, conservationists, and others to promote their protection; and monitors and studies the nesting turtles all night.
Jaguars are predators of the green sea turtles, not just humans. There are seventeen of them known in the park. Data are kept on these killings near the nesting sites.
The morning we left, while waiting for the plane to arrive, we meandered onto the beach where there were dozens and dozens more tracks and nests. An STC volunteer came by recording the daily data. We had ogled the turtle tracks as we flew in and were lucky enough to view them with more passion as we soared overhead on the return as well. One mama even had made a U-turn. When they do that, they do return to the beach soon to nest.
The green sea turtles are listed as Endangered on the U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. As well as being hunted, the fishing and shrimping industries not using Turtle Excluder Devices and employing longline fishing or gill nets add to the decline of these animals. Of course, coastal developments and other damage to the environment have a huge impact. The declining population of green sea turtles could have long-term negative effects on the oceans. These turtles feed on large quantities of sea grass, though as youths they are not vegetarians. Where these turtles graze on the grasses, new plants with higher nutritional value grow. This, in turn, is sought out by other ocean creatures to sustain themselves.
Long live the green sea turtles!!