Family Eco-Adventures: Turtle Nesting in Tortuguero National Park

On the Caribbean coast, far south of Walt Disney's famous castle and crowds, adventurous families can discover that, not only is it a small world after all, but one which is endlessly fragile. Where to go for this enlightenment? Costa Rica's Tortuguero National Park: 47,000 acres of rainforest, 99 miles of canal waterways, 11 distinct ecosystems, and 21 miles of beach where six of the world's turtles species, including the endangered green sea turtle, return each year to mate and lay their eggs.
Tortuguero derives its name from tortugas, Spanish for "turtle." This coastline has been home to nesting leatherback and female hawksbill turtles since the late 16th century, and is the largest Caribbean nesting area for the green sea turtle. Every two to four years, the turtles return to the coast of Tortuguero to mate offshore and then crawl onto the sand to nest and lay their eggs. Sixty days later, the eggs hatch and the babies scramble their way to the ocean. Natural predators and poaching— turtle shells and meat are in high demand—mean that only one in 1,000 turtles reach full adulthood, an alarming ratio that conservation organizations hope to reverse. Tortuguero was declared a sanctuary for endangered turtle nesting in 1963 and a national park in 1970, thanks in large part to the pleas of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC). It has established an extensive turtle-awareness program in the surrounding villages, turning many would-be poachers into conservationists, and maintains a research station at the northern end of the beach to study mating patterns, assist in egg hatching, and support the species' continued survival.
Green sea turtles return to Tortuguero from June to November, the giant leatherbacks arrive mid-February through early August, and female hawksbills appear in July. Park rangers and educational programs organized by the CCC and regional outfitters allow visitors to witness this seasonal life and death struggle. From dusk till around 10 p.m., follow a guide along the moonlit beaches and watch as turtles lay their eggs, eggs from previous months hatch, and newly born turtles struggle to reach the relative safety of water. Each encounter will leave you and your children with unforgettable images of the precarious balance of the planet and all its inhabitants.

Published: 19 Jul 2002 | Last Updated: 23 Oct 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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