A stretch of sand along the beach of Ostional, Costa Rica is the scene for one of nature’s most spectacular wonders.
Every month during the week before the new moon, hundreds and sometimes hundreds of thousands of sea turtles come to one specific mile of shore to lay their eggs in the black volcanic sand.
This synched nesting is only done by the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle and it’s close relative the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle. In Costa Rica, this phenomenon is called “arribada” the Spanish word for arriving.
Days before the mass nesting takes place the “flotilla”, an increasing number of turtles, show up in the water and begin to congregate close offshore. After hearing the secret call from the Universe, the “arribada” begins.
A few hundred turtles leave the ocean and start to make their way up the shore followed by a steady stream of turtles for the next three to seven days.
Use to a life in the ocean, the turtles painfully drag their bodies up the beach until they get past the high tide line. Then they begin flipping up sand, digging a nest in which they will lay around 80 to 100 soft shelled white eggs the size of ping pong balls.
One of the most amazing things about the sea turtle is that each mother that comes to Ostional to lay her eggs was also born on this exact stretch of sand!
The baby turtles hatch within 45-54 days, depending on incubation temperature. The temperature of the sand also determines if the turtle will become a male or a female.
Once the baby turtle hatches and struggles its way out of the sand, the race back to it’s ocean home begins. This long journey down the sand is what develops the turtle’s lungs so it will be ready to swim. (If you ever get to witness this amazing sight, please don’t pick up the turtles and try to put them in the ocean. They need this time to develop their lungs!)
This small creature faces a long list of predators not only during it’s journey on the sand but also once they get in to the ocean. Sadly, most hatchlings don’t reach the age of maturity, which is about 10-15 years, but those that do will one day come back to Ostional. Adventurous turtles may travel across the Pacific Ocean as far as India but when the time comes, their internal navigation system will lead them back to the beach of Ostinal to lay their eggs just as their mother did. Completing the beautiful circle of life.
The Ostional Wildlife Reserve was created in 1984 to protect one of the world’s most important nesting sites of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle. Best time to visit: between August and November and a few nights before the full moon.