Aerial view of Ostional Wildlife Refuge
© Robert harding/ddp

Baptism of surf


Life’s little wonders: Thousands of tiny turtles emerge from the black sands on Nicoya Peninsula and head straight for the ocean.

Black volcanic sand is all we see at first. The sun is just rising above the palm trees, the Pacific roaring ahead of us. We walk a little way and suddenly, the ground begins to move – and there, and over there! Turtles the size a baby’s hand, newly hatched and blending in with the dark sand, are rushing toward the waves. After about 45 days in their dark hole in the sand, hundreds of olive ridley turtles clamber wildly over each other toward the light to emerge half-blind and covered in sand. Most of them head straight for the water, but some – oh, no! – head for the rainforest, where hungry vultures, the zopilotes, are ready to swoop. Luckily, there are volunteers at the ready to shoo them away, over and over again. The beach at the Ostional Wildlife Refuge on Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica is famous chiefly for its arribadas, the mass return of the large mother turtles , which land in their tens of thousands during the rainy season from July to December on the nights just before the new moon. They lay their eggs on the very same beach where they hatched 15 years before.

The young turtles’ march is a moving sight: All together but each entirely on its own, they take their bearings from the light reflected on the ocean’s surface. On their roughly 20-meter trek, they climb undeterred over twigs, bits of frayed rope and plastic bottles until the sand beneath their flippers is wet and flat. The spray from a first wave washes over the hatchlings, knocks them off balance, and washes off every last grain of sand so that their still soft, heart-shaped shells gleam in the dawn light. Then the ocean takes them in, as it has for millions of years. And they are gone, just like that. Slosh.

The adult olive ridley turtle is already back in the ocean, her newly hatched young will soon follow her there

The adult olive ridley turtle is already back in the ocean ...

© Nature Picture Library/Getty Images
A turtle newly

... her newly hatched young will soon follow her there

© Andrea Freund


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