There are few things in this world as breathtaking as watching a 250 to 1,100-pound sea turtle lumber up a black sand beach to painstakingly dig a hole and deposit over 100 eggs into it. In Tortuguero, this is a daily occurrence From March through October – and it's one you're invited to watch.
In 1959, Dr. Archie Carr identified Tortuguero's importance as a sea turtle nesting habitat, and began educating the townspeople on biology and conservation methods. Local interest in preserving the region's lands and natural heritage grew quickly, resulting in the establishment of Tortuguero National Park in 1975. Today, Tortuguero is home to Costa Rica's forth-most visited national park and is the nation's top destination for observing these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
Of the world's seven sea turtle species, four nest in Tortuguero: hawksbill turtles (March-October), loggerhead turtles (July-October), leatherback turtles (March-May) and green sea turtles (July-October). Loggerhead and green sea turtles are both classified as endangered species, while hawksbills and leatherbacks are considered critically endangered. Costa Rican law protects all four species, and the Sea Turtle Conservancy (formerly the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, or CCC) works locally to protect, observe and research these gentle giants.
The local show-stealers in Tortuguero are the comparatively large populations of green sea turtles and leatherbacks. Leatherbacks, considered the champions of their kind, are a study in superlatives: they are the largest sea turtle; they travel farthest; and they dive the deepest. Green sea turtles range throughout the planet's tropical waters, and show off impressive serrated jaws and clawed flippers. Yet both species have suffered population declines in the last 50 years.
Home to the largest breeding site in the Western Hemisphere for green sea turtles and an important habitat for leatherbacks, the STC focuses most of its conservation efforts on these two species. In addition to tagging and tracking the animals, the organization invests in local and sustainable tourism projects – including evening tours to nesting beaches, Tortuguero's hottest nightspots.
Dressed in dark colors and with only your guide's flashlight to guide you, you'll embark on a moonlit walk along the town's black-sand beach. Your leader is a native of Tortuguero, and is well trained in biology and conservation. He or she is an expert at spotting nesting reptiles, and will soon point out a mother in one of five stages: finding a location, digging a hole, laying her eggs, camouflaging her nest, and making her way back out to sea. On a good night, you'll watch the beach fill up with turtles, each in a different phase. Stand back, relax, and be awed.
Tortuguero is a special place for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. Here, you are invited to experience an event few have the privilege of witnessing in their lifetimes. Adding to Tortuguero's appeal, know that your tourism dollars directly benefit the sea turtles and local conservation efforts, and will help preserve this beach and its inhabitants for decades to come.
For more information, or to make a donation visit http://www.conserveturtles.org