Costa Rica Adventure: Releasing Baby Sea Turtles into the Ocean

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.

Manuel from Osa Conservation, the guardian angel of all the local turtles

Manuel from Osa Conservation, the guardian angel of all the local turtles

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.

osa Conservation Costa Rica

Mission: protect marine turtles in Costa Rica!

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.

Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

The view from the turtle hatchery – not a bad place to be born, right?

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.

Piro and Pejeperro beaches are ideal for turtles to nest. They're also a gorgeous place for an early evening stroll to the hatchery.

Piro and Pejeperro beaches are ideal for turtles to nest. They’re also a gorgeous place for an early evening stroll to the hatchery.

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?

Inside the hatchery, nests are protected from poachers and predators until they hatch and are ready to wander down to the sea.

Inside the hatchery, nests are protected from poachers and predators until they hatch and are ready to wander down to the sea.

More fun than a bucket of freshly hatched Olive Ridley sea turtles!

More fun than a bucket of freshly hatched Olive Ridley sea turtles!

When travel writers meet baby sea turtles.

When travel writers meet baby sea turtles.

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?!)

Baby Olive Ridley fresh from the nest - happy birthday, gorgeous!

Baby Olive Ridley fresh from the nest – happy birthday, gorgeous!

Hello, world. I'm Olive Ridley!

Hello, world. I’m Olive Ridley!

Manuel shows us how it's done.

Manuel shows us how it’s done.

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.

Sisters awaiting their trip to the beach.

Sisters awaiting their trip to the beach.

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.

Releasing each turtle onto the shore.

Releasing each turtle onto the shore.

Baby Olive Ridley contemplates an uncertain future.

Baby Olive Ridley contemplates an uncertain future.

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. Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Baby Costa Rica 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.

Ocean. Must. get. to. the. ocean.

Ocean. Must. get. to. the. 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? 

COME AWAY WITH ME!
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  • September 29, 2014

    It wasn’t turtle season when I’ve been at any of the beaches I’ve seen where they hatch. So cute and awesome that you got to experience that!

  • September 29, 2014

    I did this in Guatemala and then again in Borneo on our honeymoon and it was THE COOLEST EVER.

    • October 01, 2014

      Wonder if the species were different? Maybe not in Guatemala but in Borneo?

  • September 30, 2014

    What a great experience! Definitely on my bucket list.

  • September 30, 2014

    Awww, I LOVE THIS! Go Olive, go!

    • October 01, 2014

      I just know she’s out there swimming it up with her sisters!

  • October 01, 2014

    Absolutely on my list! Would love to do it one day…

    • October 01, 2014

      I’m surprise you haven’t had the chance, what with all your Caribbean jaunting!

  • October 01, 2014

    I found the post and video to be incredibly moving. It brought a little tear to my eye.

  • October 07, 2014

    What a lovely thing you did! I’m actually looking for volunteer organizations with whom I can do this sort of work–work in a turtle hatchery or in reef conservation in South Asia. Thanks for the inspiring post!

    • October 07, 2014

      You’re welcome! I’m sure there are similar organization in SE Asia – at least I hope there are. If not, there’s always Costa Rica =)

  • October 09, 2014
    Sam

    If you even give a shot about turtles then you would not post these ironically selfish selfies of you manhandling the poor hatchlings. They way you are holding these Olive Ridleys is actually damaging to their physiology, it will affect their swimming ability and their venture toward the ocean. You should hold them with on finger on either side of the carapace, I’m not sure what the hell you think you are doing, but please, please, for the good of all species, not alone sea turtles, just stop.

    • October 14, 2014

      Hi Sam – For the good of all species, I’ll now cease bringing attention to the plight of endangered sea turtles. You’re right – I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I followed the instruction of the TURTLE CONSERVATION EXPERT I was with, and I’m positive you know more than he does on how to handle a baby sea turtle. I’m sure I’ve ruined their chance of survival and brought the entire animal kingdom crashing down around my selfish endeavors. How silly of me.

  • October 10, 2014

    Volunteering at a turtle nesting project is BIG TIME on my bucket list. I love that you managed to combine this with a yoga retreat!

  • November 04, 2014

    I was in Costa Rica the last week of September and my one regret was not getting to see the sea turtles, aside from one turtle couple sharing a “private” moment in the surf. A real reason to go back. Loved your video. I like turtles too.

  • April 22, 2016

    Those turtles deserve to be in the place where they should be. It is one of the best activities that I have seen, and everyone could be part of this amazing help with nature.

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