Turtle Nesting all you NEED to know!
The first thing that you need to know is that Costa Rica is a paradise for the three different species of turtles that nest in both our Pacific and Caribean coast. The Leatherback Sea Turtle, the Atlantic Green Sea Turtle and the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle are the most common we see in our Pacific North area. Although there are sightings all year round, there are special events as the Arribadas where we have hundreds of turtles nesting at the same time, and of course the hatching process that is always so precious to see and to learn about. The table below shows the seasons and where in the country is best to spot them!
The North Pacific – from Tamarindo’s Las Baulas National Marine Park, south through Ostional on the Nicoya Peninsula – is one of two hotspots for Costa Rica sea turtle nesting.
Costa Rica’s six sea turtle species and one subspecies swim the seas from north to south, on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Meaning the changes to spot this legendary creatures are pretty high. Most of the Turtle Nesting tours offered are during the night time, since some species are sensitive to light. Making new moon and darker days the perfect time to admire them, of course other factors as rain, currents and nature itself are important factors that affect how many we are able to spot.
Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) Endangered
Green sea turtles – also known as green turtles grow up to 4 feet and ~160 kilograms, they have an approximate lifespan of 80 years in the wild. It is named not for the color of its shell, which is normally brown or olive depending on its habitat, but for the greenish color of its skin. There are two types of green turtles—scientists are currently debating whether they are subspecies or separate species—including the Atlantic green turtle, normally found off the shores of Europe and North America, and the Eastern Pacific green turtle, which has been found in coastal waters from Alaska to Chile. They are known to migrate long distances between their primary feeding grounds and nesting beaches. Most green sea turtles return to very beach on which they were hatched, isn’t that amazing?
In Costa Rica, they nest primarily in Tortuguero National Park, the largest green turtle nesting site in the Western Hemisphere.
Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) Vulnerable
The massive leatherback sea turtle – also known as lute turtle, leathery turtle, or simply the luth – 8 feet and up to 680 kilograms, is the world’s largest living turtle. And it’s also the fourth-largest of all reptiles. The leatherback’s most distinctive feature is its lack of traditional turtle shell; instead, its body is covered with a leather-like confection of oily skin and flesh.
In Costa Rica, leatherbacks nest on both Caribbean and Pacific beaches.
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) Endangered / Vulnerable
They are the most abundant sea turtle in the world – and even so, they’re still an endangered or vulnerable species.Olive ridley sea turtles, sometimes called Pacific ridley sea turtles, are around 2 feet long and 55-110 lbs. Olive ridleys are special since they often nest in arribadas: which are mass nesting events, thousands of turtles nest over several nights. Arribadas usually occur during the last quarter of the moon.
In Costa Rica, they are most common on the Pacific coast. The best spot for Arribadas are Playa Ostional and Playa Nancite (only for research), with annual nesting calculated at 600,000 to 750,000 turtles.
Best spots for turtle observation!
The most important site for leatherback turtles is located north of Tamarindo, in Las Baulas National Marine Park, Playa Grande is home to the most important nesting season running from October through March.
Now we move to our hometown Samara, where if you head south you will find Playa Camaronal, also a nesting home to the leatherback turtle, hawksbills, olive ridley and black sea turtles! Although nestings are happening all year round, is better during rainy season starting in May and ending in November.
Camaronal is currently the most important turtle restoration program (PRETOMA), which is backed up by the governments support and law, and most importantly by local citizens, making this precious location an important part in the preservation and care of these endangered giants.
An hour away from Samara, heading towards Nosara, we find Ostional National Wildlife Refuge, is home to the olive ridley famous arribadas, where thousands of turtles gather every night. This incredible natural event is common from May to November, but the best season is from August to October.
Ballena National Marine Park located just south of Domical, apart from being famous for whale watching, is also home for olive ridley turtles and hawksbill turtles. The best time to visit this area is May through to November.
The Osa Peninsula is Costa Rica’s isolated wild paradise, without the comforts of the common everyday life, host the year round nesting of black sea turtles, hawksbill also frequent this area.
The Osa Sea Turtle Conservation Program hold the important job of protecting these endangered species and their nesting grounds.
Tortuguero is the second hot spot for turtle observation, home to four turtle species, green sea turtles, leatherback, hawksbill and loggerheads. Green sea turtles nest from between July and October. Leatherbacks nest between March and May. Hawksbills visit between March and October. Loggerheads are less common but you can spot them from July through October.
The Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge stretches from Puerto Viejo to PanamaThis is paradise for leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles. You can visit all year round, but peak season runs from April through October. You can also get to know ANAI, a research and conservation organization that protects the area’s beaches.Another plus to the area!
Some extra info!
Remember here is Costa Rica not only the law protects this amazing species, but us as local as well feel blessed and compromise to protect them. We do not interfere with nature directly since we are mere spectators. Here are some rules to follow:
Please refrain from using lights of any time (including camera flashes)
Again do not approach or touch the turtle. Be mindful and respect their process.
There is a reason vehicles are not allowed, since you can crush their nests .Do not block their path and give them space.The area between the high tide line and the trees is where the turtles dig their nests.
If you can hire a guide or book a tour is better, not only you will have more insight on the process, but you will also learn and appreciate more this amazing event!
The largest leatherback turtle ever recorded was washed up dead on the coast of Wales (UK) in 1988. It weighed over 2,000 lbs and measured 9 feet in length! It was estimated to be approximately 100 years old. The turtle had been drowned from entanglement in fishing gear.
Hawksbills are important inhabitants of coral reefs. By consuming sponges, they play an important role in the reef community, aiding corals in growth. It’s estimated that one turtle can consume over 1,000 pounds of sponges per year. Without them, sponges have the ability to overgrow corals and suffocate reefs.
Loggerheads carry many organisms on their carapace (shell), like barnacles and crabs. Scientists have identified between 50-100 species of plants and invertebrate animals hitching a ride. These hitchhikers are called epibionts.
It’s unknown why some olive ridley turtles nest in arribadas and others are solitary nesters. Some use both strategies during a single nesting season, nesting in both groups and alone
The green sea turtles are distributed worldwide and nest in more than 80 countries.
Sources: ICT, Wikemedia Commons, Instituto Latinoamericano de la comunicación educativa, Reptiles of Costa Rica by Twan Leender,National Geografic, seeturtles.org/.