Friday, September 9, 2011

Tortuguero: A Costa Rica Must See

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This last weekend we took the opportunity to travel to Tortuguero, which is located in the northeastern corner of the Province of Limón.  So far, our excursion there has been the highlight of our time in Costa Rica as we were able to see the nesting of the Green Sea Turtle and also watched a baby Green turtle, just newly hatched, struggle to finally meet the ocean (see video below).

The town of Tortuguero is located on the outskirts of the Tortuguero National Park (Parque Nacional Tortuguero) which is a prime location to watch turtles nesting on the beach.  Of the turtles that nest in this location, you can see Hawksbills, Loggerheads, Green and Leatherbacks, many of which are endangered.  The nesting season for the following turtles is from mid-February to the end of September, depending on the species with the highest population of turtles, mostly Green Turtles, arriving in the month of August and the beginning of September.

The town of Tortuguero, population 2000 (rough local estimate), is situated with the Atlantic Ocean on its eastern end with a long, flat and wide beach that stretches for miles in both the northern and southern direction.  The western end of the town is bordered by a river which connects with a series of canals, some natural and others manmade.  Some of those that are manmade were constructed so as to float timber down the river as transporting logs over the marshy, swampy terrain would be impossible.  (See history of Tortuguero:
As the town is only accessible by boat or plane, the town does not have any cars and the houses that are scattered throughout the village are connected mainly by meandering dirt paths which weave their way throughout the village which gives the town a very quaint and leisurely feel.  The center of town is the dock where you can find two supermarkets, a number of sodas or restaurants and a few cabins.  The “main street” of Tortuguero runs parallel to the river and perpendicular to the dock, with the northern half consisting of a paved sidewalk (not unsurprisingly, the majority of the upscale souvenir shops, jewelry stores and restaurants are located on this end).  The northern end of this walkway leads to the regionally famous Afro-Caribbean restaurant, Miss Junie’s.

The animal life that can be found in the park include manatees, as well as caimans, crocodiles as well as numerous fish. The forests are home to jaguars, three-toed sloths, and three of Costa Rica's four species of monkey: Geoffroy's Spider Monkey, the Mantled Howler, and the White-headed Capuchin. Basilisk lizards and poisonous frogs also inhabit the area, along with 375 species of birds, including kingfishers, toucans, blue herons, peacocks, and parrots. There are more than 400 species of trees and approximately 2,200 species of other plants.

Of the above, we were able to see Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, White-headed Capuchins, Basilisk lizards, toucans, caiman, an anteater and kingfishers among others during a canal tour we took the morning of September 3rd.

However, the real reason we came was to see the Green sea turtle nesting.  We took a night tour on September 3rd from 10 pm – 12 am where we were able to see the four stages of turtles nesting, laying eggs, cover, camouflage and return to the ocean.  We were not allowed to take any lights nor take pictures during the tour so as not to scare the turtles during this very critical time.  The only way to see the turtles was by infrared light and this was only to be shone from behind by the guides or turtles spotters.  It was really hard to comprehend the turtle's immensity (a mature adult weighs between 250-420 lbs!) and the struggles that the turtles must go through to lay their eggs.  Our guide told us that only 1 turtle out of a 2000 eggs would ever survive to come back to nest after 35 years.

Some other interesting facts:
-Each Green Turtle lays between 100-200 per nest.
-A green turtle can live up to 80 years in the wild.
-Sea turtles mate between 2 and 4 years (on average they nest every 3 years).
-Mating season for Green Sea Turtle is from June to September.
-After 45-75 days the turtles hatch at night and instinctively head for the beach which is the most dangerous time of their life.

Needless to say, I highly recommend visiting Tortuguero should you have a chance to visit Costa Rica.

1 comment:

  1. Sea turtles and Enya!

    Basilisks -- um, where is Lord Voldemort.

    And manatees are so ugly that they are endearingly beautiful.

    Thanks for sharing all of this with us. Reminds me that I actually love nature...shhh! Don't tell anyone.