I LIKE TURTLES.
Though my sole purpose in visiting Costa Rica was to find pura vida at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat and Spa, when the opportunity to release baby sea turtles into the ocean came up, I traded my yoga mat for hygienic rubber gloves and a beach rendezvous with another guy who likes turtles – Manuel from Osa Conservation.
The 700-square-mile Osa Peninsula is described by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on Earth,” featuring 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity in less than 1,000th of a percent of the world’s surface area. Sparsely populated and barely developed, much of the Osa is comprised virgin rainforest extending to the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, there are plenty of critters in ample supply around these parts, including sloths, jaguars and macaws. Despite the lushness of the region, the two types of nesting turtles mostly found in the Southern Osa Peninsula, Olive Ridley and Black or Pacific Green turtles are still extremely susceptible to human and environmental threats and in need of all the help they can get.
For five years, Osa Conservation’s sea turtle program has monitored nesting activity several times a day, gathered reproductive data and deterred poachers and predators from the hatchery’s carefully placed nests. A mix of volunteers and staff work together to patrol the beach, collect data and eventually release the hatchlings back to the ocean.
It was a long, bumpy ride on the rutted road from the blissful yoga retreat to Osa Conservation base camp at Carate. Once we arrived and met Manuel, we bushwhacked another 20 minutes or so through the jungle, trudged through a few creeks and then hoofed it another ¼ mile down the soft black sand of Piro y Pejeperro beach to the hatchery to meet our new baby friends. Fortunately since I skipped yoga, this turtle adventure came with a side of calorie burning! Manuel and the Turtle Team manage to do this hearty workout several times each day as they patrol for nests.
At the hatchery, Manuel explained that often a turtle’s nest can be too close to the ocean, and at risk of being swept out to sea by the high tide before the eggs are hatched. When this happens, Manuel and his team gather the eggs and incubate them at the hatchery in individual sections. Half are kept in the sun, and half in the shade during gestation, and since temperature is the key component in determining turtle gender, this means half are boys and half are girls. Who knew?
Donning my rubber gloves, I scooped up my first baby Olive Ridley turtle from the relocated nest in the hatchery (all girls in this sunny batch) and immediately noticed how strong she was.
For such a tiny critter, she certainly was fierce! (Remind you of anyone?!)
I placed my little Olive in a bucket with about 25 or so of her sisters and we transported them down the beach to the site of their original nest. That way, the ones who survive can instinctively come back and lay their eggs at the same spot.
One by one, each Olive Ridley left the protection of the bucket and met the sand for the first time. Hard-wired to find the sea, the girls made their way to the waves.
One by one, the waves whisked them away to new adventures under the sea.
(Check out my uber-relaxing video of the whole experience below!)
Statistics tell us it’s not going to be easy out there for the Olive Ridley sisters. There are going to be obstacles and enormous waves and big, scary fish to conquer. I choose to believe these gals were the strongest batch of baby turtles ever to come out of the Osa Peninsula, and like the group of independent, traveling yogis who released them, they’re going to make it out there in the great big Pacific Ocean.
If you are a member of the turtle-y turtle club with this kid and me, then this Costa Rican adventure is just for you! To learn more about volunteering with the sea turtles at Osa Conservation, click here. Or if you’d like to combine yoga with your conservation efforts, check out Blue Osa and be sure to ask how to experience the turtles yourself.
Tell me: is this an adventure on your bucket list? Have you ever come across a mama turtle nesting on the beach?