The Ostional Wildlife Refuge is world-famous for being the biggest nesting ground of mainly olive ridley turtles as well as leatherback and pacific green turtles. Located in between Punta India in the north and Punta Guiones and Nosara over in the south, this truly unique wildlife refuge is home to one of the greatest turtle phenomena tourists flock to every time the season has come.
A Protected Area for Turtles
It was the year 1984 that the Ostional Wildlife Refuge was officially created but it has been proclaimed as a protected area since the year 1982. It first encompassed the 200-m stretch from Punta India all the way to the river mouth of Rio Nosara but come the year 1985, its refuge space was extended another 200-m stretch of Punta Guiones which housed estuaries and mangrove swamps where a lot of birds lived.
In the year 1992, the final definition of the wildlife reserve space and limits were declared in the “Wildlife Law”. In the year 1994, the forestry, park and wildlife services were instituted under the National System of Conservation Areas which is responsible to the Ministry of Environment and Energy. The Ostional Wildlife Refuge falls under the control of the Tempisque Conservation Area which holds a wildlife ranger station to represent in the Ostional.
The Perfect Time to Go
First things first. There are two things you should posses when you’re in the refuge for the turtle nesting show: patience and rain gear.
Some days or weeks before the actual nesting period, conglomerates of turtles start to arrive which they call “flotilla”. Then steadily, hundreds more arrive and then thousands. This is what they call the “arribada” or the arrival of the olive ridley turtles.
These occur at the start of the last quarter moon of the month and the best months to be here is between July to December where the rainfalls are the heaviest and strongest but the show is well worth it.
Sadly, not all the eggs get to hatch since the turtles who come later end up mashing up the eggs of the earlier females who came. Predators are as well a threat to the eggs buried beneath the sand. But those who live to breathe in the smell of Playa Ostional end up coming back here when they are older and are ready to be the ones nesting.
The largest number of turtles who’ve come to the Ostional Wildlife Refuge is over 500,000 females in the year 1995.
Egg Harvesting Programs
Under the law made for the Ostional Widlife Refuge, the government allows egg harvesting cooperatives to gather the eggs in the first 36 hours of the arribada. They seal them in bags with the association’s logo with invoices–all other logos and cooperatives who aren’t accredited by the government are illegal.
Once they are done bagging the eggs, members bring them to be sold into markets, bars and restaurants and sometimes shipped to other parts of the country. In exchange, the members protect the area and the other turtles, clean the nesting spots as well as be on the look out for poachers.
This continues to be a controversial case amongst scientists, conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts.
These turtles come out at night and are very, very sensitive of light, sound and of course, man. Without the nesting season, you can walk freely along the beach. But if you’ve come here for the real deal, you have to check into the ranger booth, pay $7 and a bilingual tour guide will be with you at all times. You will not be allowed to bring a flashlight and flash photographing these moments are strictly prohibited.
This beach may not be your usual pristine white sand, crystal blue waters and commercialized tourist spot but consider yourself lucky if you ever get to be here and witness this amazing spectacle. This happens usually once a month but deem yourself a lot luckier if you get to see this twice in a month–which is very, very rare.
A very convenient way is by taking a bus from San Jose and head over to Nosara or Sta. Cruz, both will last about a 6-hour drive. From there, you can take a taxi or rent a car and the Ostional Widlife Refuge is about 10 minutes away. Ticket reservations are highly recommended.