Did you know that every month, female sea turtles visit Costa Rica’s Ostional National Wildlife Refuge to lay their eggs on the beach? It’s an amazing sight to see! Marine biologist Vanessa Bézy has been studying this phenomenon, known as a mass arrival or “arribada” in Spanish, for years. She even captured the turtles aggregating in the ocean via a drone, and the footage is absolutely mind-blowing. These turtles, mostly olive ridley sea turtles, gather in huge numbers, making it the greatest density of sea turtle species ever recorded. Bézy believes that it’s important to protect this unique site from growing threats such as tourism and development.
Why Ostional is Special
Ostional is one of the few places in the world where such large arribadas occur. Only Mexico’s Escobilla beach in Oaxaca receives more turtle visitors. The drone footage captured by Bézy shows the turtles gathering in an incredible density, with one turtle per square meter. This is unheard of anywhere else! Throughout the wet season, an average of 250 turtles per square kilometer has been measured, which is equally impressive.
The video also reveals that there are even more turtles beneath the surface. It’s a mystery why so many turtles gather here, but it may have to do with factors such as sea currents, beach orientation, and sand type. These mass arribadas could provide strength in numbers for females and their eggs, increasing their chances of survival.
The Need for Protection
The settlements around Ostional are growing rapidly, and regulations are necessary to ensure responsible development. The municipality of Nicoya, which borders Ostional, is working on guidelines for development in a “buffer zone” near the wildlife refuge. The proposed rules have received about 80 percent support from residents, but some developers have concerns. They argue that the guidelines should be more tailored to specific demographics and geography rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. However, Francisco Jimenez of the Nosara Civic Association believes the process is appropriate and that the proposed rules have been carefully crafted based on public input. The hope is that these regulations will help protect the environment and the turtles while still allowing for development.
Harvesting and Conservation Efforts
During the first two days of the arribadas, people are legally allowed to harvest eggs that are likely to be trampled by later-arriving turtles. The locals sell these eggs, and the income generated contributes to community projects like infrastructure, security, and beach cleanups. Scientist Roldán Valverde’s research suggests that this legal harvest is sustainable, partly due to established rules that limit when and where eggs can be taken. While the olive ridley turtle population at Ostional seems stable, it has experienced a slight decline over the years. Unfortunately, illegal harvesting of eggs also occurs, threatening the turtles’ numbers. Bézy founded the TortuGuiones Sea Turtle Conservation Project to measure the level of harvest and nest disruption through citizen science input. She also established the Wildlife Conservation Association, which aims to protect the area by collaborating with tour groups to observe the turtles responsibly without disturbing them. Bézy hopes that sharing the amazing drone footage will raise public awareness and foster support for the conservation of these incredible animals and their habitat.
Preserving the Future
The mass arrival of sea turtles at Ostional is a natural phenomenon that continues to captivate scientists and visitors alike. It’s a remarkable sight to witness these majestic creatures gathering in such large numbers. However, tourism and development pose significant threats to the turtles’ habitat and their chances of survival. It’s crucial that regulations are in place to ensure responsible development and protect this unique site. By supporting the conservation efforts in Ostional, we can help ensure the long-term survival of these incredible sea turtles.
This Site Was Inspired By An Interest in Protecting the Environment:
We had the privilege and joy of learning from Dr. Charlie Stine who instilled a love for the natural world through incredible field trips with the Johns Hopkins Odyssey Certificate program in Environmental Studies. At the time, the program was endorsed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Sadly, after Dr. Stine retired, the program was phased out. We hope that we honor his legacy by shining a bright light on environmental issues and sharing good news about the success of various conservation programs when possible.
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