Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Tortuguero's Fertile Turtles

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Tortuguero's Fertile Turtles

Article excerpt

ENCOURAGING NEWS comes from the beaches of Tortuguero, Costa Rica, where endangered green sea turtles nest by the thousands. Continuing an upward trend, the 2005 nesting season was one of the busiest on record, with a total of 91,615 sea turtle nests recorded over a four-month period. Researchers from the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) documented that in one night alone, sea turtles laid three thousand nests on a twenty-one-mile section of beach. In spite of poachers, beach disturbances, and turtle-eating jaguars, Tortuguero's sea turtle population is growing steadily. "What we're seeing are the positive benefits of long-term conservation," explains Dan Evans of the CCC's education program.

Located in northern Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast, Tortuguero supports the largest nesting population of green sea turtles in the Atlantic Ocean. By day the sand tells the story of the evening's activity where rows of perfectly parallel turtle tracks cover the beach. Some of the tracks lead past the high-tide mark to the deep pits the turtles dig to lay their eggs, while others reach only halfway up the beach and head back to the water.

Researchers call those tracks "half moons," when a turtle starts the egg-laying process but then changes her mind and returns to the sea. At night, it's much harder to track the turtles' activity. The black sand reflects the darkness of the night sky, and unless the moon is clearly visible, it's nearly impossible to see.

Scientists and volunteers have been patrolling this beach since 1955, when renowned scientist Archie Carr set up a turtle-monitoring program with his students, friends, and family. At the time, Tortuguero's green sea turtle population seemed on the verge of collapse. But in the years that followed, Carr and his successors at the CCC led a sea turtle campaign that helped sea turtle nesting populations rise from a low of 19,731 nests in 1972 to an all-time high of 92,523 nests in 1998. …

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