Tortuguero, Costa Rica

September 6, 2014

Anyone who knows me has heard my stories of this amazing place. I spend 5 months working as a research assistant for Sea Turtle Conservancy (formerly Caribbean Conversation Corporation), a biological field station that researches sea turtle nesting behavior. My job was to walk the beaches during the night in search of turtles building their nests. Once the turtles start to lay their eggs, they become almost impossible to frighten. I would count the eggs, measure their carapaces, and tag the turtle. This Field Station has been here for 50 years; one of the first such research stations. Because my background has always been in computers, seeing life’s wonders up close has always been one of my most magical memories.

Isolated shores of the Costa Rica's northern Caribbean

Isolated shores of the Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean

So after an absence of 17 years, I returned to the shores of Tortuguero; this time as a simple tourist. The little town has grown up quite a bit, and is now completely centered around catering to tourists. While seeing river life is interesting, tourists come for the opportunity to see sea turtles nest. Access to the beach in the nighttime is regulated (a good thing for the turtles), but I was lucky enough (more accurately I planned to come at the right time) to see the entire nesting process, watch her lay here 100-or-so eggs, tightly and carefully pack the sand around the eggs, and finally disguise her nest. The process is amazing.

One of the things that has protected Tortuguero from mass tourism is its remoteness. There are no roads, and everything has to come in by two-to-three hour riverboat. Of course, the riverboat ride through the jungle was amazing. But this type of “adventure” is not for everyone.

The above pictures are of the Biological Field station. I lived here for 5 months.  If anyone plans ever plans to go during turtle season (February to October), try to bring a care package for the research assistants. I brought a care package of 5 pounds of M&M’s and some peanut butter. They are mostly young 20-ish year olds, here for 3 to 6 months, and greatly appreciative of a taste of home.

And finally, a word or two about the meaning of the word Tortuguero. When I was here 17 years ago, I translated it to “Place of the turtles”. But I also know that the name can translate to “Turtle Hunter” (adding -er suffix would make it like “turtler”). Fortunately for the turtles, eco-tourism has made it more profitable for the locals to foster the culture as the “Place of the turtles” and, while it still exists, “Turtle Hunting” has been greatly reduced. A rare instance where tourism has helped preserve what makes this place so special; to remove a tragic, historical definition from the modern dictionary.

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