More than 100,000 olive ridley sea turtles in a single day can arrive and lay eggs at the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge in a phenomenon known as the arrival. It’s the second largest spectacle of its kind in the world and you can be there to witness it.
According to Maike Heidemeyer, coordinator for the Integral Sea Turtle Network (Ritma) at the University of Costa Rica, only Escobilla beach in Mexico receives more turtles than Ostional during arrivals.
In Mexico, the olive ridley sea turtle is the most common species that comes to lay eggs. While its the smallest of the sea turtles — between 24-28 inches long— each one can lay as many as 100 eggs on average.
But the species is considered to be endangered because of the many obstacles it faces. That’s why, if you want to witness it first hand, The Voice of Guanacaste is listing the most important points for you to become a responsible, informed tourist.
Our territory plays an important role in protecting the turtles and in raising awareness. In order to keep doing this, we need to behave ourselves,” Heidemeyer said.
1. When to go
The arrivals don’t have exact dates since it is a natural phenomenon. But Pablo Baltonado, park guard at the refuge, explained that the turtles have shown a pattern in recent months. They come at the beginning and end of each month.
The arrivals happen all year long, but season with the highest number of mass arrivals is from August to December. An arrival can last up to eight days and the best time to see it is at night or in the early morning because that’s when the turtles feel they won’t be preyed upon.
Before going, call the refuge management office to be sure there is activity: 2682-0400/2682-0937.
2. What to take
Wear comfortable shoes, preferably closed-toe tennis shoes. If you go at night, don’t wear reflective clothing. Both Heidemeyer and Baltodano agree that the light can affect the behaviour of the turtles. You may scare them and they may abort the process nesting, leaving the eggs exposed to predators.
If you take a flashlight, ask a guide how and when to use it so you have a minimal impact on the event.
3. Certified tours
Refuge managers recommend watching an arrival with community guides certified by them. Some contacts are: 6005-4207, independent guide; 2682-1229, local guides from the Ostional Integral Development Association (ADIO); 2682-0428, Association of Ostional Local Guides.
Tours generally last between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on the number of tourists. Prices vary between $10 for foreigners and ¢2,500 ($4.40) for locals
“We are dealing with animals that rarely come out of the sea, and when they do it, it’s so they can start building a nest,” Heidemeyer said. “It’s an exhausting process for them. The worst thing you can do is say, ‘I’m going to the beach to look for turtles without a specialist.’ That can harm reproduction and the security of the turtles.
4. Official eggs
Baltodano says that Ostional stands out as the only project in the world that is authorized to sell turtle eggs and the ADIO is the only entity allowed to take advantage of this activity. The money collected from the sales is reinvested in conservation activities. Eggs are sold in bags of 20 and have labels that guarantee that they are legal.
If you buy at the ADIO, remember to ask for a stamped receipt. That’s your proof that it was a legal purchase. In Costa Rica, the illegal purchase of eggs is penalized with a fine of around ¢400,000 ($700) and up to three years in jail.
5. Other things to consider
While the turtles come to spawn or in the process of hatching, visitors cannot enter with pets, coolers or bags. It is also prohibited to consume alcoholic beverages, smoke on the beach, have picnics and play music.
Remember that it is prohibited to touch the turtles and its recommended to watch them at a distance of at least ten feet. During the arrivals, it is not permitted to swim or surf in the ocean.
Finally, don’t use cameras with flash. If you go in vehicle, you must park it on the street.