Saving Sea Turtles in Tortuguero
Tortuguero is one of the best places to observe sea turtles in Costa Rica. The rugged beaches of this tiny village host more green sea turtles than any other in the Western Hemisphere. Tortuguero's evening turtle tours are a great way to view these gentle giants in the wild – and to help preserve the nesting sites of four endangered species. Tour fees help fund ongoing research, turtle tagging projects, and other initiatives to protect these magnificent endangered animals.
Four Endangered Species
Tortuguero's four nesting turtle species – loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill and green sea turtles – range from endangered to critically endangered. Over the past 100 years, sea turtle populations have declined for many reasons, principally hunting, egg harvesting, nesting habitat destruction, commercial fishing accidents, and ocean pollution. In Costa Rica, conservation goals include eliminating the illegal turtle egg and meat trade, protecting nesting beaches, increasing public awareness, and furthering marine turtle research and monitoring.
Sea Turtle Conservancy
The Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) was founded in 1959 by Dr. Archie Carr, who educated the community of Tortuguero about sea turtles and the area's importance as a crucial nesting habitat. He encouraged the townspeople to protect their natural resources, and as a result of his efforts and the community's newfound passion for conservation, Tortuguero National Park was created in 1975. For over 50 years, the STC has conducted research and promoted conservation programs in Tortuguero. Through turtle tagging, turtle track surveys, nest monitoring, and data collection, the STC has stopped the decline of marine turtles in the Caribbean.
Green sea turtles are the most commonly spotted species, and tours take place during their nesting season (July-October). There are two excursions every evening – 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. – and visitors are asked to wear dark clothing and leave their cameras and video cameras behind, as colors and bright lights may disturb nesting.
Observing the nesting process is an incredible experience. Depending on location and luck, your tour will begin with a 300-400 pound female lumbering on shore to find the ideal nest location. After digging a deep hole with her flippers, she'll enter a trance-like state to lay her eggs at which time your guide can explain the details, using a special red light to point out key happenings. After laying her eggs, the turtle will cover the nest and make her way back to the ocean. Guided tours cost $15-$35, depending on your transportation needs.
- Green Sea Turtles: July-October
- Hawksbill Turtle: March-October
- Leatherback Turtles: March-May
- Loggerhead Turtles: July-October