Sea turtles find safe haven in Costa Rican national park

Tortuguero (Costa Rica), Nestled in the Costa Rican Caribbean is Tortuguero, a small village surrounded by fresh water, the sea and the splendours of nature that it has learned to preserve for its own benefit and for the enjoyment of thousands of tourists.

To reach Tortuguero requires a boat trip of more than an hour along the rivers and canals of the Costa Rican Caribbean, where crocodiles sunbathe on the banks, monkeys climb to the treetops and majestic birds like herons and anhingas spread their wings.

Surrounded by the Caribbean jungle and freshwater canals on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other, this is one of the favourite places for the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) to emerge from the salt water and lay its eggs on the beach in conditions of total darkness.

So extreme is the protection extended to the green sea turtle in Tortuguero National Park that no lights of any kind are permitted on the beach, except for an infrared used by a guide, and even less is anyone allowed to shoot videos or take photos.

The green sea turtle, which can grow to more than one metre in length and weigh up to 150 kg, has its nesting period between July and October. During that time last year some 26,000 nests were counted.

Each turtle can lay up to 100 eggs that hatch in 90 days, but few of the newborn turtles are believed to live long enough to attain full maturity.

The arrival of turtles on the beach in the nights from July to October is Tortuguero's main attraction, while during the rest of the year tourists can enjoy the freshwater canals and the getting-away-from-it-all peace and quiet offered by the waterside hotels.

Few of the hotels have television or alarm clocks in the rooms, because the philosophy of the owners is to bring visitors close to nature and the wild sounds of the jungle.

The village of Tortuguero was founded in 1934 when Walton Martinez and his family sailed from the island of San Andres, Colombia, and settled in the place that today has close to 1,500 residents, Karla Taylor, a descendant of the village founders and a tourist guide, told Spanish news agency Efe.

Tortuguero has no streets and not a single car. The locals get around on boats and most make a living out of tourism, owning or working in small stores, inns or hotels, selling handicrafts or offering services of one kind or another to the tourists.

"The development of the village has been interesting. In the 1940s, lumber companies arrived and that provided jobs for the first families that settled here. After two decades of logging, the conservation movement began," Taylor said.

Little by little, the villagers began to understand that it was better to protect and learn from the sea turtles, the deer and the iguanas than to eat them.

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