I’m standing on a beach in Nicaragua, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, the stars glittering above my head, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. In this moment I am witnessing magic. Since I was a young girl I wanted to witness this, a Sea Turtle laying her eggs on the beach. It’s very rare to witness this yet here I am, witnessing multiple Olive Ridley Sea Turtles lay hundreds of eggs.
It is one of the major highlights of not only my travels but of my life. Here is all the information you need to know on how to see this event in Nicaragua too!
Refugio De Vida Silvestre La Flor, 19km south of San Juan Del Sur, is a reserve dedicated to protecting the Sea Turtles, primarily the Olive Ridley, that nest here between July and January each year. They take the Turtle nesting seriously here, the beach is guarded by Nicaraguan soldiers to stop poachers from stealing the turtle eggs. I was so impressed by this! It’s one of only seven beaches in the world that the Olive Ridley nests and one in two beaches in the world that occasionally have an ‘Arribada’ where thousands of Olive Ridley Turtles come to nest on the same night. Amazing! Between the nesting months the beach is off-limit to the public but the rest of the year it’s a gorgeous beach with brilliant surf breaks.
We did this through Casa Oro, a hostel in San Juan del Sur, that has a biologist running the tour. You’ll need to sign up for this at around 9am the day you wish to attend. The tour starts at around 7pm with a multi-media presentation. The cost is $15USD and includes the transport and guide. Entrance to the reserve is an extra $8. The tour usually returns at midnight but the return time is really decided by you, if the group wants to stay later you can stay later. We loved this. They tend to nest between 9pm and 2am.
Whilst you could technically hire a car and drive to the beach yourself I highly recommend that you do do this through a tour. Not only will you learn so much more (and appreciate what you are seeing more) but the few people that were there on there own made me terribly angry. They were crowding around the turtle, flashing bright lights in her eye (you can only use red-lights on the tour, which are provided, as the turtles vision is very sensitive), speaking loudly, touching her and using flash photography. It was amazing that they didn’t scare the turtle off back into the ocean. Please don’t be one of those tourists. Respect these animals, please!
Another highlight of the tour: We were delighted to be surprised with the fact that we would also be releasing hatched, one day old baby Turtles into the sea (the reserve also has a hatchery to protect the eggs even more so from poachers). This was one of my highlights of all my travels! The Turtle was as small as a golf ball and it amazed me how thin it’s little flippers were. We named him ’12’ as that’s our lucky number and these babies need all the luck in the world (this is not a guaranteed part of any tour, just luck).
FUN FACTS ON SEA TURTLES
– Turtles return to the same beach they were born to nest there eggs. Isn’t that incredible? Usually within metres of the same place!
– Sea Turtles have been swimming around our Oceans for almost 100 million years, even surviving the Dinosaurs when they became extinct 65 million years ago. Isn’t that incredible?
– Six of the Seven species of Sea Turtles are threatened or endangered in the hands of humans.
– There sizes vary greatly depending on the species, with the Ridleys being 100 pounds on average whilst the Leatherbacks can reach more than a 1,000 pounds.
– Sea Turtles live in almost every Ocean Basin in the world, nesting in tropical and sub-tropical beaches. They migrate long distances to feed, often crossing entire Oceans.
– Leatherbacks can withstand the coldest temperatures and have been found as far south as Chile and as far north as Alaska.
– The female will mate with multiple male Turtles. The female can store the sperm for several months. When she finally lays her eggs, they will have been fertilized by a variety of males. This behaviour may help keep genetic diversity high in the population. The mating process can be quite violent. Watch this video to see more on this.
– They spend their entire lives at sea, except for when the female come ashore to lay her eggs (ping-pong sized balls) several times per season every 2-5 years.
– The Female Turtle cries during the nesting. Some say it’s due to the exhaustion of the process. Others say she cries as she knows she will never see her babies again.
– The female can choose the majority sex of her eggs due to where she lays her eggs. The cooler the sand (under a tree for example) will create more boys whilst the warmer sand (no shade) will create more girls.
-It takes around 60 days for the eggs to hatch and the baby turtles to make there way to the sea.
– Sea Turtles lay around 70-190 eggs each time, depending on the species.
– Only 1 in 1000 baby Turtles will reach adulthood, which is eighteen years old.
– In Central America it’s estimated that more than 60,000 Sea turtles, mainly Olive Ridleys, are caught and drowned in shrimp trawl nets each year.
– Major threats to the Sea Turtles include: Nesting beaches being destroyed by coastal development and erosion. Incidental capture of Turtles in commercial fishing gear. Direct harvest of Turtles & Eggs for human consumption. Oil Spills and debris like plastic bags and rubbish (that Turtles mistake for food). Humans are the Sea Turtles biggest threat and we are close to losing one of the oldest living creatures on this planet!
There you have it. If you are ever lucky enough to be in Central America during the Turtle nesting season be sure to visit this incredible Turtle refuge. I hope that you are lucky enough to witness this magical event too and that you are inspired to do your part in helping these amazing animals survive another 100 million years on this planet!
Have you ever seen Sea Turtles in the wild? Where?
Let me know in the comments below!