Turtles – The Saviours of the Nosara Coastline
Many visitors arrive to Playa Guiones and are struck by the way in which the coastline seems so well preserved. In many other Costa Rican beach towns, bars and restaurants line the shore. However, in Playa Guiones such entertainment spots are instead home to nothing more than trees, sand, and surfers. It’s also home to one other very important creature, without whom the coastline between south Playa Guiones, all the way to Ostional would look very, very different – the turtles. So how did these creatures, almost single-handedly become responsible for the lack of development along these shores? It happened, because in 1981 the Costa Rican government, as part of their ongoing campaign to protect the countries wildlife acknowledged that the phenomenon whereby the Olive Ridley turtles come ashore to lay eggs merited legal safeguards. The net result of this was that the coastline from Playa Guiones to Punta India was declared a wildlife refuge, meaning that no construction could take place 200 meters from the shoreline.
Nowadays, the Ostional Wildlife Refuge is an 86 square kilometer area encompassing both land and sea, that the World Wildlife Fund named one of the two most important nesting areas on the planet for Olive Ridley turtles. Thanks in large parts to the efforts of both the Costa Rican government, and the many individuals who have fought to preserve this stretch of coastline, the incorporated beaches are the setting for a biological wonder named ‘arribada,’ which translates to English as ‘arrival’.
Although this happens at Playa Guiones and other nearby beaches the focal point of this activity is Playa Ostional a few kilometers north of Playa Guiones. In rainy season, particularly in September and October, for a few days either side of every new moon, the black volcanic sands of Ostional become the nesting site for hundreds of thousands of turtles. Although these arribadas typically occur at night time, its not uncommon to also see it during the day. What begins with a slow stream of turtles rapidly develops into a huge number of the creatures making their way to land. During these times, the large Olive Ridley turtles slowly, and laboriously drag their ocean conditioned, up onto the shore, lay between 80-100, white, soft-shelled, ping pong ball sized eggs, and then head back to the ocean to let nature take its course.
Between 45-55 days later depending on sand temperatures the baby turtles hatch and begin the desperate, and often deadly race to reach the ocean. The moment they open their eyes the struggle begins to slowly and painstakingly make the long distance crawl to the ocean directed by the smell of the breeze. Along the way they face vultures and other scavengers, and in some cases adult turtles making their way up the beach to lay eggs. The limited rate of successful completions of this journey are the reason that adult females give birth to such large clutches of eggs, thereby increasing the proliferation of the species.
Although the survival rate of these newborn hatchlings is comparatively small, those successful in reaching the ocean may live long lives. Turtles born at Ostional have been recorded swimming to as far-flung locales as India and beyond. Amazingly however, they always remember their birthplace, and after reaching maturity, the females will return to their home beach to lay eggs, just as their parents did decades earlier.
In addition to leaving ample room for one of most incredible natural spectacles in the world, the Ostional refuge, which encompasses Playa Guiones, is responsible for preserving the coastline characteristics that leave visitors stunned at the untouched beauty. It also comes as a shock to many to realize that the refuge is the bedrock of the community as we know it, and without the protection of this unique area it would likely be full of hotels, restaurants and beach bars. In recognition of the importance of this TORTUGuiones, a non-profit, volunteer based conservation project was formed a few years back. Their mission is the protection of both the sea turtles and their habitat. Anyone who loves the natural beauty of Playa Guiones, and would like to see it stay that way must recognize that the importance of their work extends way beyond their stated intention of simply protecting the turtles. For more information about who they are, what they do, and how you can help visit their website: tortuguiones.org
Want to know more about Nosara’s amazing wildlife? Check out these unique species that you might be lucky enough to see in Nosara.