The Missing Turtles of Tortuga… The Passport Series

The view from our balcony at Tortuga Lodge on the edge of Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.

We missed seeing the giant 300 pound Green Sea Turtles and their prodigious effort of laying 80-100 eggs on our trip to Tortuga Lodge in Costa Rica. The large females go into a trance during the process. It sounds like a good idea when you are having 100 babies. Once mom has dug her hole in the sand and settled in, visitors can walk up and watch the process.

Seven weeks later the eggs hatch and the baby turtles instinctively scurry for the ocean. They’re tasty. Scurrying is good. On shore, sea gulls and crabs think feast. Jaguars also hang out in hopes of crunching down their share.

The ocean is hardly safer. Last fall I watched a flock of Brown Pelicans off of the coast of Puerto Vallarta discover a swarm of baby turtles heading out to sea. It was like Armageddon.

Of the hundred or so babies who hatch, one may be lucky enough to make it to adulthood… not good odds. If you are one of the lucky ones, however, you can expect to survive for 80 years. Your only enemies are men and sharks. Of course that’s enough. By the mid 1900s Green Sea Turtles were on the edge of extinction. Sharks were not the problem.

People found the meat tasty and behaved like the Pelicans when the turtles came ashore.  Possibly even worse, they believed the eggs had an aphrodisiac quality. They killed the mamas and dug up the babies.

Tortuguero National Park on the northern Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica was established in 1970 as a sanctuary for the turtles. Tortuga Lodge sits on the edge of the park and offers a “gourmet dining opportunity” to view egg-laying mamas. I checked to make sure turtle soup wasn’t on the menu. Dinner by candlelight in the wilderness and the private viewing sounded good but I was wary of the last sentence, “You might get back to the lodge around 11 pm.”

What was with the might? It implies there is a might not. Could the jaguars somehow be involved? “Let’s see. I can eat this 2-ounce turtle or that 200-pound person. Hmmm.”

Anyhow, we arrived in late November, well past the egg-laying season. Turtles and jaguars were not on our agenda. Instead, we watched giant iguanas climb trees during the day and listened to howler monkeys howl at night. We ventured out on a tour of the regions dark, murky streams and then took out canoes on our own. Crocodiles lurked along the banks, bright butterflies went flitting by, and a Jesus Christ Lizard walked across the water.

Tortuga Lodge, like Monteverde Lodge, is owned and operated by Costa Rica Expeditions. Rooms were quite attractive, the food excellent and the guides knowledgeable. Getting there from San Jose involved travel by both van and boat. We flew back from a small airstrip located near the lodge.

Crocodiles lurk along the edges of canals located in Tortuguero National Park.

The eye of a Cayman.

We found an unusual beetle crawling across the lawn at Tortuga Lodge.

This lizard provided a colorful rear end view.

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