Early in September of this year, thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles returned to their nesting sites on the beaches in Ostional Wildlife Refugee in Guanacaste, Costa Rica in order to lay their eggs. This time however, they were “greeted” on the beach by hundreds upon hundreds of people. Locals and tourists blocked endangered sea turtles from laying their eggs.
Scared by the massive hordes of people, most sea turtles returned to the Pacific ocean. Those who dared to venture on the sand were assaulted by dozens op people, taking selfies with them or perching their children on the turtles’ backs.
Luckily, some were able to lay their eggs in the sand, but only after darkness, when the throngs of people left. This however is nowhere near as close to the number of eggs that should had been on the beach and the whole incident can be classified as a natural disaster.
Now Costa Rican officials are scrambling to make sure it does not happen again.“We are reassessing the way we work and the way we tackle the issue,” Mauricio Méndez, deputy director of the Tempisque Conservation Area, which includes Ostional Beach, said in a telephone interview.
Usually these beaches are protected during this time of year by the rainy season in the area. The Nosara River gets swollen and access by bridge is impossible. This year however, with the increasing droughts and the low rainfall caused by El Niño, all but dried out the river, thus giving easy access to these beaches.
From a distance, aboard a boat, Vanessa Bézy, a sea turtle biologist, watched in dismay as hordes of tourists clogged the beach, overwhelming the guards.“I almost had a panic attack because it was so crowded,” said Ms. Bézy, a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has been studying nesting behavior at Ostional Beach for five years. “It was basically a free-for-all.”