Sea turtles of Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park Sea Turtle Haven

  • MORE about Leatherback Turtles in Costa Rica
  • MORE about Seasons and Sea Turtle Species in Costa Rica

  • The small village of Tortuguero (translated as "Region of Turtles") lies on the northeastern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, approximately 50 miles north of the principal Port of Limon. the village is comprised of a variety of cultures: Hispanic, Miskito Indian (Nicaragua), and Afro-Caribbean. Both Spanish and Creole English are spoken. The region surrounding Tortuguero is called the Tortuguero Plain, which is a vast low lying area of little topographic relief still covered by a large expanse of tropical rainforest. Map of the Tortuguero Region

    Sea turtle haven


    Tortuguero beach is the most important nesting site of the endangered green turtle in the Western Hemishpere. Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles also nest here. The green turtle population is believed to have come perilously close to extinction in the 1960s when nearly every female turtle arriving to nest in Tortuguero was taken for the export market for turtle soup. CCC was established in 1959 specifically to study and protect Caribbean green turtles. Working closely with the Costa Rican government, CCC helped establish Tortuguero National Park in 1970, a move that offered protection to the turtles and strictly limited the number of turtles that could be taken. With the park established, development along the coast would never stretch much beyond the existing village, and the presence of CCC researchers and park guards would discourage poaching. The park now includes over 19,000 hectares (46,900 acres) and protects 22 miles of nesting beach from the mouth of the Tortuguero River south to Parisimina. The park, and the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge to the north, comprise the largest remaining adjoining tract of lowland wet tropical forest on Costa Rica's Atlantic Coast. .

    Tortuguero National Park and canals, Costa Rica

    Tortuguero National Park Experts

    Since the 1950s, CCC scientists and participant volunteers have conducted extensive nest monitoring programs every year in Tortuguero and shared the findings with Costa Rican park managers. In 1995, CCC began monitoring the Tortuguero beach during the spring months (March - May) for nesting leatherback sea turtles. CCC research confirms the global importance of Tortuguero to both green sea turtles and more recently for leatherback sea turtles. In addition, a few rare hawksbill sea turtles also nest in the refuge each year. Learn more about CCC's Research Participant Program.

    How Important Is the National Park to Sea Turtles?


    During the 2000 green turtle nesting season (July through October) over 2,600 green turtles were tagged by CCC researchers and participants, up from 1999 when only 2,002 greens were tagged. In addition, 12 hawksbills and one leatherback were also encountered. During the 2000 leatherback nesting season (March through May) over 58 leatherback sea turtles were tagged by CCC researchers and participants, down from 1999 when 100 leatherbacks were tagged. Six green turtles were also tagged during the 2000 leatherback season. As for other wildlife, the park provides important habitat for jaguars, tapirs, green macaws, three species of monkeys and numerous plant species.

    CCC's Involvement in Tortuguero and the National Park

    Tortuguero National Park Experts

    Even with the establishment of the park, CCC realized that the cultural demand for sea turtle meat and eggs would be harder to overcome. Trying not to interfere with local customs, CCC instead began working with villagers to promote ecotourism as a more sustainable use of the sea turtles that come to Tortuguero each year. In 1971, CCC began hiring Tortuguero villagers to walk the 22-mile stretch of black sand beach and count turtle tracks. Gradually, local shops and hotels have sprouted offering villagers a steady source of income. Each year, tens of thousands of tourists come to Tortuguero to see the nesting sea turtles and the other natural treasures of the national park. After receiving certification through a CCC training program, villagers are issued government permits authorizing them to guide tourists on nightly turtle watching excursions. Villagers take great pride in receiving a guide permit, and those that do are staunch defenders of Tortuguero's turtles. Other early initiatives focused on the importance of educating Costa Ricans and visitors alike about the various threats to sea turtle survival. With support from the Tinker Foundation, CCC built an educational kiosk in the center of Tortuguero village that told the story of sea turtles. The kiosk still stands today, and CCC has augmented its ability to educate by constructing the H. Clay Frick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center, which now reaches most visitors to Tortuguero. CCC's sustainable development work with the Tortuguero community has demonstrated that live sea turtles on the beach have greater value for the villagers than dead turtles in the stewpot. Tourists pay considerable fees to watch sea turtles nest on Tortuguero Beach. Some 50,000 tourists visit Tortuguero annually to see nesting turtles and visit the tropical rainforests of Tortuguero National Park.

    OLIVE RIDLEY TURTLE(Lepidochelys olivacea)

    Size: his is the smallest species, adults only 70cm long. - Weight: 40-50 Kg - .Average eggs per nest: 110 - General Characteristics: almost round carapace with 5 to 9 lateral scutes, dark green color, with two pairs of prefrontal scales and two claws in each forelimb. In Costa Rica, it nests along the pacific Coast, mainly from July to February. At Ostional and Nancite beaches massive nesting (arribadas) of this species occurs, where even more than 100,000 females can nest in one single night; for about 2 to 5 nights each month.

    LOGGERHEAD TURTLE (Caretta caretta)

    Size: Adults 120 cm long. - Weight: 180 kg. - Average eggs per nest: 112 - General Characteristics: proportional to the rest of the body, the head looks big, giving itthe common name of bigheaded turtle in Costa Rica. Reddish-brown carapace with 5 lateral scutes, plastron is creme colored. A few nests have been documented in the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica between the months of May and August.

    HAWKSBILL TURTLE (Eretmochelys imbricata)

    SIZE: Adults 80 cm long. - Average eggs per nest: 155 - General Characteristics: The common name comes from the mouth which looks like a hawk’s bill. The end of the carapace is serrated and the plates of the carapace are imbricated. It has 2 pairs of prefrontal scales. This is one of the most exploitated species by humans. They are captured for their meat, eggs, skin, but mainly for their shell, which is used to produce jewelry and other products like combs and frames for glasses. In Costa Rica it nests mainly in the Caribbean (although also in the Pacific) coast between the months of May and November.

    Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)

    Size: Adults 100 – 140 cm long. - Average eggs per nest: 110 - General characteristics: Oval carapace with variable color and four lateral scutes. One pair of prefrontal scales. In Costa Rica it nests mainly from June to October, constituting the largest nesting colony of the Atlantic coast.

    Black or green turtle of the pacific (Chelonia mydas agassizi)

    Size: Adults 100 cm, - Weight: 100 Kg. - Average eggs per nest: 70 - General Characteristics: Considered a subspecies of the green turtle, but with a darker coloring than that of the Caribbean and with a tear-shaped carapace. It doesn’t nest frequently in Costa Rica.

    Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

    Size: It can get to be 2m long - Weight: Up to 600 kg . - Average eggs per nest: 110 - General Characteristics: Carapace without scutes, with 7 distinctive ridges. Dark blue color with white spots. Hind limbs very elongated. In Costa Rica this species nests on both coasts; on the Caribbean side they nest between March and July along most of the coast. On the Pacific side they nest between September and March, mainly in Playa Grande.

    Turtle watching

    Turtles of Costa Rica Turtle Watching along Costa Rica`s Caribbean Coast and the Pacific Coast Species Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles When and where ? The nesting of Sea Turtles is one of natures amazing spectacles. Green Turtles nest along the beaches of Tortuguero National Park from July to October. Leatherbacks nest frequently along the Caribbean coast and at Las Baulas National Park in Guanacaste from February to June. Hawksbill and Loggerheads, less common, nest along the Caribbean during the summer months. The Olive Ridley nest in Ostional in Guanacaste, coming ashore in large numbers for several days each month from August to September. How ? Sea Turtles are most frequently seen when the females come ashore to deposit their eggs on beaches usually at night. Only 1 of 5000 Sea Turtles are going to be adults, so it is really important that people do not disturb them while digging the holes in the sand to put their eggs in. No bright flash lights please!

    The Green Turtle in Tortuguero National Park


    It is one of the most visited sites during the Turtle Hatching Season. Green Turtles nest along the beaches of Tortuguero National Park from July to October. - The Leatherback Turtle - Yhey'll grow up to be the largest reptiles in the world. But tonight, on the Pacific beaches of Costa Rica, hundreds of Leatherback Sea Turtle babies, only four inches long, will hatch out of eggs the size of golfballs and run out to the sea. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History. On January nights, the Costa Rican beaches are swarming with Leatherback Sea Turtles. The huge adult females, who are six feet long and weigh one ton, are busy digging their nests and laying their eggs, while tiny hatchlings are digging their way out of their nests and racing to the shore. And, according to Steven Morreale of Cornell University, "It's really an exciting time to be on the beach. It's just great." Mr. Morreale has often witnessed the birth of a Leatherback Sea Turtle baby. "It digs itself out of the nest, comes out, looks around, almost always night time, because if they come in the day, it's way too hot. They get a fix on where water is and then they all run down to the surf. So you can see as many as a hundred hatchling turtles all following each other, running down to the surfline. They're like little windup toys. Their little flippers are paddling away and they use that to propel themselves across the sand. And they head out into the surf, and actually that's the last time we see them for up to many, many years. And maybe, we'll never see them again. If they're males, they could go to the ocean and spend their entire life in the ocean. They could be as much as a hundred years, and we'd never know anything about that individual."

    Tortuguero National Park Sea Turtle Haven

    Turtle Species of Costa Rica Loggerhead Caribbean and Atlantic ( Tortuguero ) Olive Ridley Turtle Pacific Coast Guanacaste Leatherback Sea Turtle Pacific and Atlantic Coast Hawksbill Turtle Pacific and Atlantic Coast Green Turtle Atlantic Coast Pacifi Green Turtle ( Pacific Coast )