Under the waning moon in rainy season Olive Ridley sea turtles arrive by the thousands to nest on normally isolated and deserted Costa Rican beaches in what’s know as an arribada. Unfortunately in September of 2015 there was a mass arrival of a different sort – hundreds of visitors from San José and all over Costa Rica descended on the beach.
Typically only a few intrepid international tourists make the difficult journey crossing rain swollen rivers to observe this amazing natural phenomenon under the careful supervision of the park rangers. The social media images above tell a different story this time. The severe drought in Guanacaste brought on by El Niño dried up the rivers and word spread on social media.
The two rangers on duty didn’t stand a chance against the hundreds of weekend visitors who drove down from the capital for a day at the beach and a chance to see one of the most amazing natural occurrences anywhere. Unfortunately the visitors were unaware of the regulations established to protect the turtles and congregated precisely in the nesting zone. Before dawn many were using lights or flash photography to capture the perfect selfie and not surprisingly the rangers reported that many turtles returned to the Pacific without laying eggs.
While the normal behavior was obviously severely disrupted by the mob it probably wasn’t the “devastation” or “disaster” described by some. It’s not unusual for females to abort a nesting attempt and return a few nights or even a few weeks later. They also lay a huge excess of eggs every season so it’s unlikely that this one weekend will have a significant impact on the hatch or population.
SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación – the government agency that oversees Costa Rica’s parks and reserves) has stated that they will convene a study group to develop a plan for education and crowd control so this sort of scene doesn’t repeat. The turtles are quite defenseless forced by their genetics and collective consciousness into putting on the show every year under the last quarter of the moon in the rainy season. Hopefully the human observers can find a more respectful and less disruptive way of enjoying it.
The “good old days” of a few people at a respectful distance are gone from Ostional beach but wherever you are please follow the local regulations and these turtle watching guidelines.