The Sea Surtles in Costa Rica
Tortuguero National Park is located on the Caribbean coast, approximately 80km northeast of the city of Limón. The total area is 18.946 ha in the terrestrial part and 52.265 in the marine part. It is the most important area of the occidental part of the Caribbean, for the spawning of the Green turtle during the months of July to September. Other species that spawn on the beach is the Leatherback and the Hawksbill.
The Green turtle’s spawning is one of the more interesting natural phenomena. This process is considered the period most critical of the life cycle of the turtle. The females come to the beaches in great numbers and in periods more or less fixed. These concentrations and the difficulty to displace on the sand, make her very vulnerable to man and other predators.
The process begins with the migrations of the turtle to areas without presence of their foodstuff in big extensions. The mating takes place in front of the coast and a little while later the female appears on the beach where she excavates the nest for the eggs, an event that generally occurs during the night. To achieve it she crawls up the beach to find the appropriate place, where the high water doesn’t reach, and gets ready to prepare the nest utilizing the posterior fins as shovel.
From the moment leaving sea until she begins to deposit the eggs, the turtle may not feel bothered or threatened. Because she will return to sea and then regrettably this one will be a lost brood.
When the nest has a depth of some 50cm, she begins to deposit about 100 eggs. Once the task is finished, the turtle turns to cover the nest utilizing practically all her body, trying to camouflage it throwing sand all over the area, balancing her body on the beach and then returns to sea.
In the lapse of two months the sun will incubate the eggs. When the little turtles begins to come out of the eggs, they fight its way to the surface of the nest. There they await the night or early morning to abandon the nest and to initiate their race toward the sea, where they arrive instinctively for being the more brilliant place of the horizon.
The national wildlife refuge Ostional became a reality to protect important nestling areas of Kemp’s Ridley turtles, Leatherback and occasionally, Green turtle. A good part of the world population of the Kemp’s Ridley turtle spawns in Ostional. They direct to a narrow sandy belt of 900m where they take the beach in big arrivals of 4 to 8 days of duration. Principally between July and December, but they can arrive in solitaire or in little groups all along the year.
The marine national park Las Baulas in Guanacaste includes 445 ha extension of beaches, forests and mangroves by the shoreline of the peninsula of Nicoya. It was crated to protect the wildlife species in danger of extinction, specially the Leatherback, the biggest turtle in the world.
In the sands of Playa Grande the Leatherback turtle spawns, it can measure two and a half meters and weigh around 700 kilos. Unlike other turtles this species does not possess a hard shell, instead it has a black skin. It is nomadic par excellence and the favorite food is the poisonous jellyfish. The Leatherback, just like the other sea turtles, spends their lives in the waters of the tropical and temperate seas, approaching shore only when the females spawn. The Leatherback takes the beach from November to April and digs her nest meter deep. She spawns, covers it with sand and returns to sea again. After 60 to 90 days the baby turtles are born, they immediately head for the water. In this difficult path, of just 70 m, they are an easy prey for crabs, sea birds and various mammals, therefore only some of them survive. Occasionally Kemp’s Ridley turtle comes to spawn at Playa Grande, species that also nests in the national parks Santa Rosa and Corcovado.
More than 80.000 turtles are captured illegally every year in the coasts of Central America. The turtles are threatened each time they nest on the coasts of Central America. The illegal hunting and the incidental fishing of the different species occur in all of the 7 countries, despite the fact that there are regulations and agreements between the countries, they are not obeyed.
In Costa Rica the rational use of the resource is allowed in two cases. The first is on Playa Ostional where they develop a project of gathering of eggs. The plan regulates the utilization of the eggs that will be lost by natural conditions. Natives and the development association of Ostional have permission by law. This is one of few good examples of projects in the sustainable development, where the human population as well as the turtle has benefited. Another case is in the provinces of Limón, where they have a yearly capture quota of 1.800 Green turtles. Besides these two cases, the utilization of any product of turtles is forbidden in Costa Rica.
The Worldwide Wildlife Foundation, WWF, gives a call to the governments to take the necessary measures to reduce the high numbers of illegal fishing and incidental capture. On the other hand, WWF ask media and non-governmental organizations all over the world, to start campaigns and education to revert the problems of the illegal hunting and consumption of the sea turtle meat.