Sea turtles are one of the World’s Most Intriguing Animals and Costa Rica Volunteer Programs Let You Get Up Close
Part of their appeal is in their appearance — their flippers and friendly faces can charm just about anyone. Part is their mysterious nature — because they spend most of their lives swimming the ocean depths, little is known about their feeding or breeding habits. But the most fascinating thing about sea turtles is the process by which baby turtles enter the world.
It is not a stretch to say that turtle hatching represents the struggle of life and death in nature in an epic way. Everyone is touched by the story of mother turtles swimming for thousands of miles to lay their eggs on the shore, and baby turtles hatching and heading on a perilous journey across the sand to the open sea.
Those who travel to Costa Rica have the incredible opportunity to be a part of this spectacular natural event. Four different breeds of turtle lay their eggs on Costa Rican shores, and visitors can be a part of every step, from witnessing the mothers lay their eggs, to helping the baby turtles make it out to sea.
Five different types of turtles lay their eggs in Costa Rica: the loggerhead, the leatherback, the Hawsbill, the green turtle, and the Olive Ridley turtle.
Loggerhead turtles are the largest sea turtles on Earth. They nest during the summer on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, and their hatchlings take 7 to 10 week to emerge.
The world’s largest turtle of any kind, and one of the largest reptiles, the leatherback features a distinctive leathery shell and an ancient appearance. The female can lay between 65 and 100 eggs in a single clutch. Leatherbacks nest on the Pacific coast — in the Guanacaste region — and in Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast.
The Hawksbill turtle’s cream-and-gray “leopard spots” make it easily identifiable. The female Hawksbill lays eggs once every three years, in clutches that range from 50 to 200. These turtles nest in Tortuguero, and in various places along the Pacific coast.
Green turtles are unique in that they make multiple trips to the sand to lay their eggs — up to seven times in just a few days. They also return to the same location each time for nesting, which they do every 2 to 4 years. Green turtles only nest in Tortuguero.
The Olive Ridley turtle provides perhaps the most fantastic spectacle of all, as nearly 150,000 female turtles head for shore in just four days. They come in relentless droves, called “arribadas,” sometimes trampling or digging up other nests in their rush to lay their eggs. Olive Ridley turtles nest on the Pacific northwestern shores of Guanacaste, and further south, near Tamarindo.
All of Costa Rica’s sea turtles are threatened or endangered, whether due to loss of habitat, egg poaching, overhunting, or all of the above. The government of Costa Rica actively supports the welfare of these animals, and great care should be taken to give them their space and leave their habitat as undisturbed as possible.
While Tortuguero is one of the best places to see all kinds of turtle hatchings, visitors can also head to Ostional Wildlife Refuge, Marina Las Baulas National Park, and Santa Rosa National Park to witness these amazing events. Go it alone, or take a one of many of Costa Rica’s turtle hatching tours.