The Sea Turtles of Costa Rica
The flip-flop of tiny turtles towards the great barreling ocean is a sight many of us dream of witnessing. But why is so much attention placed on these magical creatures by conservationists? Read on to find out…
Seven species of sea turtle fall into two categories: Cheloniidae and Dermochelyidae.
The first family, the Chaloniidae, holds six of the seven species, with only leatherbacks excluded.
Six species of sea turtle nest in Costa Rica throughout the year and all are listed as endangered and protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Olive Ridleys Sea Turtles
Kemp’s Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
Pacific Green & Atlantic Green Sea Turtle
Leatherback Sea Turtle
And the Hawksbill
The warm, soft sand and gently sloping beaches of the Costa Rican coast are ideal incubators for sea turtle eggs. The long history of the turtles visiting these shores has inevitably lead to their presence being entwined with Costa Rican culture. There is a long-standing custom of eating the eggs which many locals are loath to give up. Indeed, many here may well be put out by being told they can no longer eat chickens eggs. What else can you scramble for a delicious, nutritious breakfast, or poach and have over avocado toast? Of course, it’s not that simple; the country is still impacted by poverty and there are many who would make an income by selling eggs and get some extra nutrients when only carb-heavy rice and other such foods are available. Poachers are common and only by bringing more sustainable industry such as ecotourism, alongside conservation efforts, are we likely to see an end to this threat.
Climate change is also a huge problem. Fascinatingly, the sex of a sea turtle is determined by the temperature of the environment while they are in the egg. Warmer temperatures are leading to more females and fewer males. As the ratios change, it is even more important to protect the eggs to ensure as many males as possible survive to continue the population.
So why save them? (Other than the fact they are so cute!!) Sea turtles play a vital role in the ecological web. Alongside manatees – also listed as vulnerable to extinction – they are grazing animals, vital for maintaining the health of the sea bed by protecting the balance of plants and making sure seagrass does not take over. This then ensures that the seabed can remain a breeding ground for many species of fish, shellfish, and crustacean. Without sea turtles, we could see a decline in many other species.
So, what can you do? Well, as stated, simply being in the country, supporting the ecotourism industry both brings to the economy and incentivises the protection of the turtles. More turtles = more tourists = more money!
But if you want to work more closely with the creatures at a sanctuary or conservation project, check out one of these trips or simply tell on of our eco experts what you are interested in for your own unique itinerary at no extra cost!
Costa Rica (literally, ‘Rich Coast’) is home to around half a million different species. Sandwiched between the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica is famed for its enormous biodiversity and trailblazing eco-friendly policies, making it the perfect location for a conservation project like this one. You’ll live deep in the wilderness of a tropical forest whilst helping to protect a variety of threatened species, from the elusive puma to the tiny turtle. In this multifaceted project, you’ll assess populations of four different species of monkey by carrying out primate surveys in rich forests, survey exotic birds and invertebrates and gather information on nesting Sea Turtles by conducting beach patrols. You’ll also walk the rivers to assist with ground-breaking research on the neotropical otter. Phew! And there’s more…
Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce, situated just off the world-famous Osa peninsula, is just as sweet as it sounds. One of only four tropical fjords in existence, this beautifully wild gulf is home to a host of wildlife including macaws, dolphins, monkeys, whales and, of course, sea turtles. This fascinating area is the location for an important sea turtle conservation programme, which focuses on studying Hawksbill and Eastern Pacific Green Turtles in particular. Whilst most sea turtle conservation work is concentrated on turtles’ nesting beaches, this project aims to better understand the critically important in-water foraging and nesting areas that turtles migrate between.