Leatherback Turtles of Costa Rica- one of the most fascinating treats for visitors
Costa Rica has a complex ecosystem, and is home to some of the most diverse wildlife on Earth. Of all the animals Costa Rica visitors love seeing on their trip, the leatherback turtle is one of the most popular, and for good reason.
As far as turtles go, the leatherback is an impressive species. It is the largest living turtle on earth, measuring up to 6 feet in length and up to 1200 pounds in weight. While little is known about how long they live, it is believed that they may have a life span of 50 years or more.
While all other turtles have a hard, woody shell, the leatherback’s shell is made from skin and oily flesh. The turtle’s upper body is dark grey with scattered white splotches, while its underbelly is pale.
Leatherbacks lack true teeth, so they mainly dine on soft-bodied creatures like cephalopods and jellyfish. They are highly adaptable, and are perfectly at home in all but the coldest ocean waters. They roam far and wide during their lifetimes, with individual turtles having been found everywhere from Argentina to Alaska.
While leatherbacks may spend most of their lives traveling the ocean, they always come back to the same spots to nest. Leatherbacks only nest in tropical zones, and female turtles come back to the same shores they were born on to lay their own eggs.
Female leatherbacks work hard on their nests. They use their flippers to dig sizable holes, into which they deposit their eggs. They then cover the eggs with sand to keep them warm. Eventually, the baby turtles hatch, dig their way out of the sand, and head out to sea.
Unfortunately, the trek out to sea is treacherous for baby leatherbacks. There are many predators waiting to snatch them up, including dogs, crabs, birds, and even humans. Nesting sites are being broken up due to beach erosion, and the lights from coastal buildings are confusing the turtles and luring them in the wrong direction.
Adult turtles have their own challenges; they are often killed in fishing nets, and they frequently mistake plastic items in the water for jellyfish, which leads to intestinal blockages. For all of these reasons, leatherbacks are listed as an endangered species, and conservationists around the world are doing their best to protect their populations.
Costa Rica is well-known for its wildlife conservation efforts, and it is fiercely protective of its leatherback population. The country is one of the best places in the world to catch a glimpse of these amazing turtles. Numerous females congregate on both the Pacific and the Caribbean shores to lay their eggs, and visitors can see – and even take part in — the entire process themselves. On the Pacific side, leatherbacks nest between September and March, while on the Caribbean side they nest from February to August.
The best places to see leatherback turtles in Costa Rica include Corcovado National Park, the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge , the Marino Las Baulas National Park, and Tortuguero National Park.