Ahead of this weekend’s Turtle Ball, a fundraiser held in honor of Ojochal’s biological research and education center, the Reserva Playa Tortuga in Costa Rica’s South Pacific, the non-profit organization is sadly reporting a record low year for successful turtle nests being rescued by the sanctuary.

There have only been 16 rescued nests for the 2016 turtle season at the Reserve compared to 75 nests last year says Oscar Brenes, a tropical biologist who is the science director for the Reserve.  

Oscar says that this steep decline in recovered turtle nesting sites is largely due to this year’s increased wet weather and subsequent beach erosion, not for lack of any effort on the part of the Reserve or volunteers. Logistically, there is an abundance of staff and volunteers to protect and maintain the turtles’ habitat.

With an optimal incubation temperature range of between 25-33 degrees Celsius, the lows of 22 degrees Celcius on a few nights in this year’s turtle nesting season have been tough to bear.  A surplus of moisture also presents its own problems of mold and bacteria, meaning that many of the eggs in the nests are not hatching.

Photo credit Reserva Playa Tortuga

One of the main goals of Reserva Playa Tortuga is to gather as much information as possible about the sea turtle population that uses Tortuga Beach as a nesting place.  The Reserve was founded in 2010 with the aim to contribute to the fields of biological research and conservation management founded in science.  The team at the Reserve have created a local culture of environmental conservation in the National Wetlands of the Terraba-Sierpe basin and continue to expand the focus and positive impact on marine life through active conservation efforts and community education. Photo credit Reserva Playa Tortuga

Because turtle eggs are typically a traditional delicacy in regions where turtles nest in the midst of human habitation, there is an inherent threat of poaching. The nests in the region of the Reserve are often moved to the Reserve’s protected nursery, which is monitored by staff 24/7 who collect data on the incubation period, nest temperature, environmental conditions and how these factors affect the sex of the hatchlings.

The turtle nesting season is from July until January, with the peak months of September and October.  The Olive Ridley is the most common, although 8 of the 16 nests rescued by the Reserve this year have been Green turtles. Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles are less frequently seen nesting on our South Pacific beaches.  Individual turtles are able to nest every other night, sometimes up to two or three nests in one night, which on average contain around 100 eggs.

Photo credit Reserva Playa Tortuga

The Reserve attracts turtle lovers to its cause through national volunteering agencies and its great website that is full of information and calls to action. The dedicated team at the Reserve also focus on organizing activities in the nearby communities, like this past Saturday’s festival in Playa Ventanas that featured free cultural activities, including music, dance lessons, kids’ yoga and Zumba; also information stands for the municipality, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MINAE) and Ojochal’s Escuela Tortuga.  The nearby Boruca indigenous people were invited to perform their Dance of the Little Devils for the festival attendees, in preparation for their annual cultural festival in Rey Curre from the 31st of December to the 2nd of January.

Donations from the festival go solely towards the festival organization costs, the goal being to create local awareness and giving back to the community, many of whom regularly volunteer their help in turtle rescue and release efforts. Oscar and Melissa Jimenez, who is the Environmental Education Coordinator for the Reserve, are the annual organizers of the festival, which began in 2014.

Photo credit Reserva Playa Tortuga

For those interested in attending a turtle release, Oscar generally posts the information on the Reserve’s Facebook page on the same day because the timing of the eggs hatching is estimation based on the environmental factors. The next anticipated hatching is of two Olive Ridley nests this weekend.

A Sea Turtle Network has been created in the last year to bring together the turtle reserves operating in Costa Rica’s South Pacific, from Hacienda Baru to Punta Unica, the Southern-most point of Costa Rica, to collect and compare data after the nesting season in February.                                       Photo credit Reserva Playa Tortuga

Drake Bay is hosting their turtle festival this weekend and Reserva Playa Tortuga in collaboration with El Castillo is hosting their annual Turtle Ball this Saturday, 3rd of December, a gala in honor of the turtles, with proceeds going towards the Reserve’s rescue efforts.  Visit El Castillo for details and tickets.

Playa Tortuga Research and Education Center is located on the road to Tortuga Beach.  Drop in to say hello and lend a helping hand next time you hear their call to action and we hope to see you at the Turtle Ball this Saturday.

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