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Six of the seven turtle species worldwide are endangered !!

The turtle lives ’twixt plated decks Which practically conceal its sex, I think it clever of the turtle In such a fix to be so fertile. ~ The Turtle, Ogden Nash, 1902-1971

There are five major species of large sea turtles that nest on Costa Rica’s shores, and their mostly nocturnal egg-laying is a wonderful thing to see. But be careful not to disturb them and always go with a licensed, experienced guide. Six of the seven turtle species worldwide are endangered.

The green turtle (Tortuga verde) mates and lays its eggs on the beach several times a year. Green turtles are especially common at Tortuguero, where the Caribbean Conservation Corps was begun. They measure about a meter (3.3 feet) in length and weigh 75-200 kilos (165-440 lbs). Loggerheads (cabezona), with their massive bird-jawed skulls, have short fins and grow to a little over one meter (three feet) in length. They nest on other beaches but seem to gather in larger numbers at Playa Grande near Tamarindo.

The black, narrow-finned leatherback turtle (baula) is named because of its leathery hide in place of a shell. Leatherbacks grow as large as two meters (six feet) and weigh up to 680 kilos (1,500 lbs). That’s living large! They come ashore on both coasts but especially at Playa Grande near Tamarindo, Tortuguero and the Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge.

On the other side of the coin, the hawksbill (carey) is one of the smallest marine turtles at about one meter (three feet) or less and only 91 kilos (200 lbs). Because of its highly valued spindle-shaped tortoise shell, it has been hunted to near-extinction.

The Olive Ridley, also called the Pacific Ridley (lora), nests at Ostinal near Playa Nosara and at Playa Nancite in Santa Rosa Park. There is no other sight in the world like a beach full of Ridley turtles storming ashore to nest. To huddle on a deserted beach late at night with only the brush stroke of the Milky Way to illuminate your world is quite an experience.

Turtles return to the same beach each year and lay their precious eggs by digging a shallow hole in the sand with their flippers. Any type of unnatural light or noise will disturb the giant lumbering females and can cause them to abort their nest. Once covered over, the hatchlings emerge about 60 days later and crawl toward the surf. If they’re lucky. Between wrong turns and predators – sea gulls, large fish, raccoons, foxes and human poachers – rarely do more than 4-5% grow to maturity. Costa Rican laws severely restrict the harvesting of sea turtles; so if turtle is ever on a restaurant menu, please don’t order it.

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