Tortuguero National Park
: The creation of this park in 1970 gave much needed protection to one of the region's most important and unique natural resources: a 22-km. stretch of shoreline that serves as the principal nesting site throughout the western half of the Caribbean Sea for the Atlantic Green Sea Turtle. Watching these great reptiles emerge from the tropical sea and haul their 100+ kg. bodies ashore to lay their eggs under cover of darkness is truly a memorable spectacle. The nesting season for the green turtles extends from July to October.
An even larger species, the Leatherback Sea Turtle, also nests on these beaches from February to April, although most nesting is done in the southern portion of the park, far from the actual village of Tortuguero.
In addition to this vital strip of coastline, Tortuguero National Park protects 18,946 ha. of forested habit and an extensive network of freshwater creeks and lagoons. The aquatic environment is home to 7 species of river turtles, as well as Spectacled Caiman, Southern River Otters, the scarce and hard to see West Indian Manatee, the fierce-looking Alligator Gar -- a fish which has remained nearly unchanged in appearance since prehistoric times -- and numerous other fish species including Atlantic Snook and Atlantic Tarpon which bring anxious anglers to this region from all over the world.Gliding through the tranquil backwaters in a small boat is as enjoyable and rewarding a way to watch wildlife as you're likely to find anywhere. And even if most of the diverse assortment of rain forest denizens manages to elude your gaze, the experience alone, along with the wonderful forest sounds, make this activity one of the highlights of any visit.In 1994, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation finished a new Visitors Center Building just north of the village of Tortuguero and the exhibits on display are very well done and most informative.Admission policy: Night walks on the beach to observe nesting sea turtles must be in the company of a trained and authorized local guide (arrangements can be made through any of the area hotels).Getting there: Accessible only by boat or plane. The 30-minute flight from San José can be arranged with any of the private charter companies, or on the regularly scheduled TravelAir service. Boats can be hired in Moín (just north of Limón) to take you up the canal system to Tortuguero. The length of time depends on the vessel (averages between two and four hours). Tortuguero can also be reached by boat from Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. This is a longer, but equally scenic journey which takes you down the Sarapiquí River to the San Juan River (at which point you will technically be in Nicaragua and thus must go through the corresponding border checks on both sides of the river), and then through Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge to Tortuguero. This route usually takes from four to six hours.Fishing: The species and conditions are essentially the same as at Barra del Colorado.Climate: This coastal region receives four to five meters of rain per year (sometimes more), so expect very warm and humid conditions. History: The low-lying areas are of relatively recent geological formation being alluvial sediments washed down from the interior mountains, but the few hilly places in the region, including Tortuguero Hill near the mouth of the Tortuguero River, are remnant volcanic formations that date back to when this portion of Central America consisted of nothing more than an archipelago of volcanic islands.At some time in the region's history, sea turtles discovered that the beach here made a suitable nesting site and have continued to return faithfully ever since. However, the Green Sea Turtle nearly declined to extinction due to excessive harvesting of its meat for turtle soup and of eggs poached from the nests for their supposed aphrodisiacal properties.
Fortunately, the efforts of the late Dr. Archie Carr, a biologist from the University of Florida, in Gainesville, were in time to initiate the preservation of the species before it was too late. In 1959, he formed the Caribbean Conservation Corporation for the purpose of studying and protecting sea turtles throughout the region. The turtle tagging program begun at Tortuguero in 1955 is still continuing today and has yielded much information about these enigmatic creatures.
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