We left Playas del Coco, Costa Rica at 5:30 pm one evening in February, 2012. There were 11 of us in a tourism van, ready for the 90 minute ride to Midas Beach, near Tamarindo, a major tourist centre on the North Pacific(Guanacaste) coast of Costa Rica.
The road was paved but curvy as we traversed the familiar mountainous regions which hug the Guanacaste coast. The sun was in its final descent on its daily 12 hour cycle. At around 6:00 pm in the tropics, the sun disappears as quickly as it rises. On one curve we saw the sun from the hilltop, a bright, crimson red, and by the time we reached the bottom of the hill it had disappeared.
All of us were Canadian tourists, looking forward to an evening amongst the green turtles on Midas Beach.
Several tourist vans arrived at the same time at about 7:00 pm in complete darkness. About 30 of us assembled in front of our guide/interpreter, eager to experience an evening of natural wonder- the opportunity to see green turtles returning to their birthplace to lay their eggs.
Costa Rica has a reputation built on its extensive rainforests, its environmentally friendly policies and its belief in preserving its flora, fauna and wildlife.
Green turtles, we learn, have only long odds of survival. Only one or two out of 10,000 eggs will survive and reach adulthood, so the authorities believe in ‘tweaking’ the process to increase the odds, explained later in this article.The turtles usually return to the beach in the early evening to lay their eggs, but only under certain conditions.
Our guide says that it may take up to three and a half hours to locate the turtles and watch the process and a few groans can be heard from the group. However, little did we know that this evening was to become one of the most memorable evenings of our three month holiday.
We headed towards the beach in single file behind our guide, Michael. He had the only light, an infra red pointer which directed us. The turtles are very light sensitive so no lights or camera flashes are permitted on the tour.
Only moments later, we surrounded a turtle, perhaps one metre wide, which was returning to the ocean because egg spawning conditions were unsuitable. The sand has to have the ideal consistency with water, so that the females can dig their holes without the sand falling back in. Think of building a sand castle. You can’t build one if the sand is too wet or too dry.
We gathered as a group on the beach, sitting, lying down, waiting for the turtles. Michael said we would be waiting for some time.
Many of us laid down on the sand on our backs, gazing in amazement at the brightness of the stars in the cloudless sky. The illumination of the sky was breathtaking. Everyone gazed in silence or whispered quietly. Almost 2 hours passed but it seemed like only minutes.
Meanwhile, Michael had “scouts” moving up and down the beach watching for the turtles to appear. Near the end of our waiting period there were sightings of about 12 turtles.
Some made their way on to the beach. Some turned back. Some looked for ideal conditions. We gathered around one turtle that was trying to dig a hole in the sand, and finally abandoned it, after hours of exertion in the wrong conditions. It tried twice in dry sand to dig but failed and returned to the sea. Green turtles try as many as three times on three different evenings to lay their eggs.
At about 9:00 pm as we were preparing to leave, Michael got a radio message that one of the turtles seemed ready to lay her eggs.
We followed Michael with anticipation, forming a semi-circle around a green turtle that was positioning herself to lay her eggs. Her hind paws began moving sand, creating a hole and moving the sand until the hole was at a precise depth.
One of the scouts placed a light in the hole, and we were awestruck as the female began releasing her white eggs, the size of tennis balls, over a 15 minute period. We watched in silence as 75 eggs were released. It was a special moment for all of us, and absolutely unforgettable. We were all very moved by the experience.
Our guide explained that the eggs were too close to the water and needed to be re-located to a safer place, away from the frequent poachers as well.
It was one of those rare and special evenings, and the mood was captivated by the power and perfection of Nature.