Local lifestyle columnists

Watching nature unfold, the sand to ocean trek of baby turtles

By From page B5 | December 07, 2013

Do you have a bucket list; things you want to do before you leave this world?

Two weeks ago I checked off one item from my list; seeing the birthing and migration of baby turtles at the Ostional Wildlife Refuge in Costa Rica. I’m not an early riser, but for this I rolled out of bed at 3 a.m. for the two hour drive south.

The Ostional National Wildlife Refuge is located in the western Costa Rica province of Guanacaste. The Refuge became protected in 1982 and was officially created as a national park in 1984 to protect one of the world’s most important nesting beaches for Olive Ridley marine turtles.

The Olive Ridley Sea Turtles are renowned for their arribadas (the Spanish word for arrivals), which are huge egg laying seasons. During arribadas the sand can be covered with thousands of turtles. The largest “arribada” recorded in Ostional took place in November 1995, when an estimated 500 000 females came ashore. Some believe that the arribadas are associated with moon phases and tides. However, there are turtles laying eggs at Ostional Beach throughout most of the year.

The turtles are normally shy and easily disturbed. However during the “arribada” the turtles become almost oblivious to disturbance by people, animals, light or sound. You’ll see them bumping into and crawling over each other, determined to fulfil their task of laying eggs at all cost.

Our group witnessed the baby turtles emerging from the nests approximately 45 days after the last arribada. Each nest had approximately 80 to 100 eggs.  The babies stay in the nest up to four days after hatching. When conditions are right they begin erupting from the sand like a volcano spewing lava. We were fortunate enough to catch several nests as they began to pour out. We watched in awe and cheered as the last few struggled to get themselves out of the sand holds.

Fascinating too is their journey down to the ocean. What a tiring feat after struggling from the nest and sometimes crawling 30 feet or more to the water.  They crawl and stop and sometimes go in circles. When they reach the water the waves often pushes them back on the beach or flips them on their backs. Visitors are warned not to touch them but a little sand pushed under their backs helps them flip to their feet again.

As if the trek from the nest to the ocean wasn’t enough, the babies are in danger of being eaten by the hundreds of black vultures and other sea birds waiting to devour them. Volunteers and some paid locals do their best to keep the birds at bay, but there are not enough people to do the job. Once they make it to the ocean other dangers await. Sadly only 1 out of 80 of the babies is expected to reach maturity.

As you may guess, the best time to visit Ostional is just before and during an arribada. These occur, as a general rule, at the start of the last quarter moon. The best months to see the biggest arribadas are between July and December.

Ostional is somewhat remote, but there are lodges and small hotels nearby.  From the San Francisco Bay Area, United, American or Delta Airlines have connecting flights into the Liberia International Airport. Ostional is approximately 2 1/2 hours south of the airport. Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose is also an option, but expect a four to six-hour journey to this destination.

This trip is a treat for nature lovers or those seeking a volunteer vacation. If you plan on renting a vehicle and making the trek yourself, a 4-wheel drive SUV is recommended, as the road to Ostional can be rugged at times. Better yet, combine this wonder with many of the others experiences Costa Rica has to offer (jungle, rain forest, volcano or cultural expeditions) and book a tour.

As always, I recommend you contact your personal travel consultant to help plan this adventure.

Where ever your bucket list leads you, I wish you happy travels!

Rose Alston is a certified travel and master cruise counselor. She operates a business in Fairfield and can be reached at [email protected]


Rose Alston


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