So you want to see some sea turtles in Costa Rica? I really like saying that, “see sea turtles.”
It’s kinda like that joke about loving “seafood” – if I can “see” it, I eat it.
Okay, enough with the Costa Rica Guy corniness…
Really, folks, Costa Rica is a sea turtle paradise. We have four species that frequently nest on our shores: the leatherback, green, hawksbill and olive ridley. All of these are endangered species. Their habits are constantly under attack in Costa Rica by egg poachers. Yet the government, as well as many NGOs, try hard to protect them.
Not too long ago a young sea turtle conservationist, Jairo Mora Sandoval, was shot and killed while trying to protect his beloved sea turtles in the Limon area. Many think that his death was the direct result of his efforts that threatened the egg poaching black market.
Let’s take a closer look (see) at the four charming species of sea turtles in Costa Rica…
The largest of all sea turtles, and one of the largest reptiles on earth, the leatherback turtle ranges in size from 4-8 feet in length (1.2 – 2.4 meters) and weighs between 500-2,000 pounds (225 – 900 kg). The average adult measures in between 5-6 feet (1.5 – 1.8 m) and weighs 600-800 pounds (270 – 360 kg).
The oldest of all sea turtle species, it has been around for more than 150 million years! They survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and thrived until the last several decades when human interactions have taken a major toll.
Nesting Times: On the Caribbean from March to July. On the Pacific from September to March.
Nesting Places: On the Caribbean, Tortuguero. On the Pacific, Playa Naranjo in Santa Rosa National Park, and Las Baulas Marine National Park near Tamarindo.
The green turtle is the second largest after the leatherback. They can weigh up to 500 lbs (225 kg) and reach four feet (1.2 m) in length. The adult is a herbivore, dining on sea grasses, seaweeds, algae and other forms of marine plant life. Their beak is sharp and finely serrated, perfectly adapted for grazing in sea-grass beds and scraping algae off of hard surfaces.
Nesting Times: June to October along the Northern Caribbean coast, especially Tortuguero.
Nesting Places: Primarily Tortuguero, which is the most important nesting ground in the Western Hemisphere for this species.
The second smallest after the Kemp’s ridley, the Olive Ridley turtles weigh between 75-100 pounds (34 – 45 kg) and reach 2-2 ½ feet (roughly .6 m) in length. They are named for their pale green carapace, or shell and are the most abundant of sea turtle species.
Like the Kemp’s ridley, they nest in masses referred to as arribadas. During arribadas, thousands of females may nest over the course of a few days to a few weeks. Adults reach sexual maturity around the age of 15 years.
Nesting Times: Along the Pacific they nest throughout the year, but the most concentrated time is July to November.
Nesting Places: Ostional Wildlife Refuge, Santa Rosa National Park and Corcovado National Park.
Considered by many to be the most beautiful of sea turtles for their colorful shells, the hawksbill is found in tropical waters around the world. They spend their time in coral reefs, rocky areas, lagoons, oceanic islands, and shallow coastal areas.
Named for its narrow head and sharp, bird-like beak, hawksbills can reach into cracks and crevices of coral reefs looking for food. Their diet is very specialized, feeding almost exclusively on sponges. One of the smaller turtles, adults weigh between 100-200 pounds (45 – 90 kg) and reach 2-3 feet (roughly .5 to 1 meter) in length.
Nesting Times: Sitings are rare, but the best time is September and October.
Nesting Places: Cahuita National Park on the Caribbean and in Golfo Dulce on the Pacific.
Above descriptions and nesting information about sea turtles in Costa Rica taken from the website www.seeturtles.org.
Do we have a turtle watching package for you? Of course we do!
Just make sure to schedule your sea turtle watching trip during nesting season that runs from June to October.