The Green Sea Turtle of Costa Rica

Green sea turtle swimming underwater
The green sea turtle, scientifically known as Chelonia mydas, is a magnificent creature that resides in the coastal waters of Costa Rica. With their striking features and behaviors, they never fail to captivate us.

Big Herbivores of the Ocean

The green sea turtle is the second largest turtle species, following the leatherback. Adults can weigh up to 500 pounds and reach a length of four feet. Males are slightly bigger than females and sport a longer tail. As herbivores, they feast on sea grasses, seaweeds, algae, and various marine plants.
They have a sharp, finely-toothed beak that is perfect for munching on seagrass and scraping algae from surfaces. It's worth noting that juvenile green turtles also indulge in invertebrates like crabs, jellyfish, and sponges.

Where to Spot Green Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

Tortuguero National Park, located on the North Caribbean Coast, is a top destination for turtle enthusiasts in Costa Rica. Known as the "Region of Turtles," Tortuguero offers a unique experience with its intricate maze of jungle canals and untouched beaches. Here, you can witness the nesting rituals of green turtles.
Aerial view of Tortuguero's natural jungle canals
Another place where you can commonly encounter green sea turtles is the Osa Peninsula. Known as the most conserved region in the country, it serves as critical feeding grounds for two endangered sea turtle species - the green turtle and the hawksbill turtle.

Nesting Season & Year-Round Encounters

When you visit Tortuguero, the main highlight undoubtedly lies in the opportunity to witness the green sea turtles. There are specific times when this awe-inspiring sight unfolds. August takes the spotlight as the prime month for observing green sea turtles nesting. However, if your visit doesn't align with August, don’t worry!
Consult the lunar calendar for days with a full moon. These are the times when “arribadas,'” or peak nesting days, are most likely to occur. Only licensed guides can lead tours to protect turtles and ensure safety and conservation.
From June to October, an astonishing 22,000 green turtles migrate to Tortuguero to lay their eggs. It is truly awe-inspiring to witness these magnificent creatures as they go through their nesting ritual. However, the most thrilling aspect is that you can encounter sea turtles all year round. During the rainy season (June-October), both green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles come ashore to nest. Leatherback turtles, on the other hand, prefer to nest in March and April.
Green sea turtle hatchling crawling in the sand

Breeding and Conservation

Green sea turtles embark on remarkable migrations, traveling long distances from their feeding areas to their nesting grounds, typically sandy beaches. When the time for mating arrives, these turtles prefer the shallow waters near the shore. Female turtles go on land to lay eggs, often choosing the same beach where their mothers laid eggs before.
Using their flippers, females carefully dig a hole in the sand and delicately place 100 to 200 eggs inside. They cover the nest, say goodbye, and go back to the sea, leaving the eggs to hatch after two exciting months.
The journey from the nest to the ocean is perilous for baby green sea turtles as they encounter threats from predators like crabs and hungry gulls. Sadly, the green sea turtle population is at risk of extinction. They are hunted for food. Additionally, they face dangers such as boat accidents, getting caught in fishing nets, and losing their homes due to human activity.
If you're interested in observing the green sea turtles of Costa Rica, reach out to our knowledgeable experts. They will help you organize a turtle conservation-oriented trip, enabling you to observe them in their native environment.
Green sea turtle swimming in the ocean floor

Fun Facts about Green Sea Turtles

  • No place to hide! Like other sea turtles, the green sea turtle cannot pull its head into its shell.
  • Green sea turtles usually swim at an average speed of 1.5 to 6.3 miles per hour. However, when they feel threatened, they are capable of speeding up to avoid predators and other dangers.
  • Green sea turtles are a fundamental link in marine ecosystems. They help maintain the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs.
  • Green sea turtles' sex is determined by the temperature of the sand where their eggs are incubated, not by genetics!
  • They can hold their breath for long periods of time, staying submerged for up to five hours.

FAQs about the Green Sea Turtle of Costa Rica

Can I touch a green sea turtle?

No! It is important to refrain from touching or disturbing green sea turtles. They are protected species, and any interference can cause stress or harm to them.

Can I take pictures of green sea turtles?

Yes. However, ensure you do so without causing any disturbance or harm. Maintain a safe distance and avoid using flash photography, as it may startle or disorient the turtles. Seek permission from your guide prior to photographing.

How long does it take for a green sea turtle hatchling to reach the ocean?

Baby green sea turtles swim out to the open ocean after they hatch, following the moonlight reflecting on the water. The journey from the nest to the ocean can take several hours as they navigate obstacles and predators.

Where can I find green sea turtles?

Green sea turtles live in warm waters in many parts of the world. They are commonly found in coastal areas, such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, and rocky shores. In Costa Rica, prime nesting sites include Tortuguero, where you have a good chance of encountering them.

How long do green sea turtles live?

Green sea turtles have a long lifespan, typically ranging from 60 to 80 years. Some specimens have been known to live for over a century. Protecting habitats and conserving them is crucial for their long-term survival.
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