Wowzers! Or more accurately I say nothing at all, as we are watching an Olive Ridley female just going about her reproductive business in the dark of a clear Costa Rican night.
Having not seen anything, but had the opportunity of a robust walk up and down the beach on night one, then completely missed a 6ft Costa Rican guide at Las Olas on night two, we managed to finally meet up again on night three, along with another colleague of Turtle Tours for another walk. Maybe it was going to be third time lucky – well, obviously it was, otherwise there wouldn’t have been this post. For some shots of turtles in the daytime, post hatching check out the Tico Times article.
The night was crystal clear and full of stars. The night before there had been a meteor shower, which I’d completely missed, and been completely unaware of. So absolutely no excuses, usually I’m aware but can’t be arsed.
Luckily there were a few Sally Slow-boat shooting stars bringing up the rear, and as we pootled along the beach enjoying the ‘avoiding the waves’ dance I caught sight of one and made my wish to see a tortuga laying her eggs on the beach. And then, and then…
Not 10 paces on, and our guide veered left up the beach toward a nearby hotel. In the dark he’d spotted the pattern in the sand of a female turtle hauling herself up the beach to lay her eggs. As he’s down there every night he soon gets to know what are old tracks and what are the new, and these were new. We followed and behind a branch laying across the sand like an enclosure we found her. An Olive Ridley Green Turtle just arrived on the shore to lay her eggs….
She was digging her nest, in a particular way. First her left back flipper digging down and grabbing the sand, the flipper curling around the sand as dexterously as a hand, before depositing to one side, then down went the right flipper, repeating the action on that side. Side to side, she dug down, until satisfied. At this point she began laying her eggs. We sat and watched as egg after egg landed into the hole. I posted a little video of it on Instagram, here.
I’m not sure how long we stayed there transfixed by Ms Tortuga. She seemed unaware, and we’d used a red light so as to reduce any potential stress she may have had by being watched over 3 randoms as she went about her private egg-laying business. Once she had finished, she then began the task of filling the hole back in. As she couldn’t see behind her, no rear view mirror to hand, she failed to see that we were being covered in sand as she attempted to return the sand back into the hole. The reversal of the hole digging process wasn’t as neat and tidy seemingly, but eventually she was content, and then began to knead the sand between her back flippers as if she was kneading bread. Apparently the Olive Ridley is the only turtle to do this, it’s not clear why she was doing it but it was a particularly mesmerising activity.
Once she was done, it was as if she was taking a breather, so we shifted away from the site, and went down the beach waiting alongside the route that had brought her to the beach, as we expected her to retrace her steps. She, however, was a few steps ahead of us, and circumvented us, taking a different route behind us, back to the sea. We realised just in time to see her heading into the waves. They move fast when they want to.
We went back to the nest, and took at look at it, you could see the indentation where she had laid and dug, which made it an obvious spot for a poacher. The eggs are stolen and sold to bars in San Jose, to be eaten raw. They are full of protein, and viewed as an aphrodisiac. Also, a haul of eggs provides a quick and easy way to make money. Luckily, she had also created a depression next to the actual nest itself and it was here that a fake hole was dug to make it look as if poachers had already got at the nest and stolen the eggs. A stick left in the newly dug hole completed the look, and we wandered back to Las Olas, avoiding the high tide that was making its way in.
The tour are plannig to work with the local public school, to educate the children of the poachers in the benefits of protecting the turtles, and hopefully turn potential poachers into gamekeepers of the future.
The eggs take about 45days to hatch, so it’ll be any day now that those lil’ eggs should hatch and the turtles find their way to the surface and out into the sea….fingers crossed. It was truly a magical end to a beautiful experience that was Costa Rica, and all that it had to offer.