My Mini Sea Turtle Rescue in Costa Rica

sea turtle rescue playa guiones costa Rica turtlesDuring a routine early-morning walk on Playa Guiones during my recent trip to Costa Rica, my friend and I came upon a scene that was way more than we had bargained for. We had brought my friend’s dogs (two huge boxers) down from Coco, so we were on a section of the beach that was pretty much empty except for us. It had been a cloudy morning after some storms, so the air already had a moody feel, the still-ferocious waves lapping at the shore. The dogs started running after something, so we knew something was up. Then we saw the vultures — lots of them. And then… we came upon the first skeleton.

We had stumbled upon a turtle graveyard.

There were about a dozen shells, surrounded by eaten eggs picked apart by vultures.

The strip of beach we were walkking on is reasonably close to Ostional Wildlife Reserve, one of the two most famous turtle nesting sites in the world and now a huge sanctuary for sea turtle rescue. A refuge was built in the 1980s to collect and protect eggs, and volunteers from all over the world help out, often pulling overnight shifts. There had been major storms in the area, so it looked to us like these turtles just hadn’t made it all the way.

sea turtle rescue playa guiones costa Rica turtlesAs we sadly looked out to sea, we saw something that caught our eye and had us leaping for joy. Was that a flipper? Of a live turtle? The little guy was struggling to get past the strong current and back out to sea. After about ten minutes, he started lagging big-time. The work was just too much. My friend couldn’t stand it one more second and dove out into the frigid ocean, swimming towards the turtle. She pushed the tired creature out as far as she could, past the current that was tripping him up. As she came back to shore, we cheered as we watched him finally disappear out to sea. We had achieved our own mini sea turtle rescue!

sea turtle rescue playa guiones costa Rica turtles

One tired little turtle

Sadly, I have no photos of our heroine, as she had to strip down to her skivvies to make her rescue.

Thousands of turtles lay their eggs in the area every year, but our one save was important to us.

Every little part helps!

For more information on Ostional and sea turtle rescue, here are two fascinating sites with loads of information. Who can resist pictures of baby turtles?

Costa Rica National Parks

Ostional Wildlife Reserve

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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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Comments

  1. Your life is very colorfoul and exiting!!!

  2. So sad, but such a cool story! That was so awesome of your friend to do that! :)

  3. It’s not often one stumbles upon brute nature like that. Very heroic of your friend.

  4. Well done. Nice to know that even a sad story has a little happy end attached.

  5. So sad :( I love turtles, it’s so sad to see they’re endangered… Lovely that you rescued one :)

  6. I’m glad you guys could help save even one turtle! And full points to your friend for jumping into the cold ocean to do it.

  7. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Me heroine!

  8. LOVE this post! As big-time wildlife enthusiasts, it breaks our hearts to see any animal suffering. We especially love sea turtles, and donate to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to help them rehabilitate turtles rescue on the GA coast. Kudos to you and your friend for helping to ensure that at least one of those little guys made it back out to sea safely!

  9. Nice work! It is a great feeling when you can do a good deed whether it is for another human or for a turtle on a beach.

  10. Awww what a wonderful way to wake up — to all of these sweet comments! My friend is a true animal lover — she’s the reason that as I write this I have two lovable Costa Rican street dogs at my side.

  11. Well I’m officially a little creeped out by that first picture, but in the end you guys saved Squirt, and that’s what’s important!
    I hope you had some warm beverages nearby for your friend once she got out of that ocean. It looks cold.

  12. That is so cool of you guys!!! I remember all the dead turtle skeletons on Fraser Island in Australia.

  13. An interesting post and a great rescue!
    All the best from Santiago…

  14. The skeletons are something, huh? So eerie. We were so perplexed — didn’t really figure it out until we saw “Squirt.” Then it clicked!

  15. awww…that makes me so sad but so glad that you guys were able to save one. :(

  16. How sad, poor little things. Respect to your friend who dived in to save the strugglers, not many people would have done that.

  17. As Sophie said, Mother Nature showing her brute force!

    I know — it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to just jump right in. Maybe it will next time?

  18. This is a really touching story. What a kind thing your friend did.

  19. I hate knowing you had to see all of those skeletons, but am so warmed that you saved one!! I am pretty sure I would have burst into tears. Good job babe!!!! :)

  20. It was freaky!! The dogs warned us… The vultures were awful!

  21. That turtle skeleton is haunting, isn’t it? Kudos on the rescue! I love a happy ending.

  22. Oh WOW! You know, I went the entire time in Costa Rica without seeing one? I think I would have cried if I came across this scene.

  23. great story. Loggerheads sea turtles nest around here, and truly that any of them survive is truly amazing.

  24. What a story! I agree, the skeleton photo is quite eerie

  25. Erica, turtles don’t come to Coco, so I never saw any either! Some of my friends went to Ostional, but I forget why I couldn’t go… The only time I’ve seen them in the wild is in Hawaii snorkeling.

    Margo, you’re the second person to tell me about the turtles in Georgia!

    Cam and Gray — SO haunting and eerie!

  26. Great story, well done to you and your friend, turtles are endangered the world over and need all the help they can get.

  27. Aw thanks — there is so much wildlife in Costa Rica. It seems almost natural to help… It is so wild to think about this now, being back at home in the city.

  28. So sad that so many turtles don’t make it, but I’m glad you managed to save one of them!

  29. Oh my goodness what a crazy story! I feel like so many people pay big bucks just to see these turtles and you guys actually stumbled upon them by accident and saved one!

  30. I think if I stumbled upon a bunch of dead turtles I would weep openly. I am so glad your friend saved the turtle! Hooray!

  31. And that one act of kindness was surely important to the turtle as well. Its always nice to read about the good people are doing when they travel. Sometimes, I like these stories more than just the informative kind. So thankful for you and your heroic friend.

  32. It’s true, Kyle — my friends paid to go see them while I was living there, but I didn’t go. And then a year a later…

    Rease… :( The little guy we saved was so cute!

    Sherry — thank you!!! You are always so eloquent. I do hope the turtle was happy. :)

  33. The photos of those turtle skeletons are just so sad. I’m glad to hear your friend was able to make a difference, though!

  34. We have had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time in both Guatemala and Borneo to get to participate in a turtle releasing. But it’s always so scary to watch, as the little heads bob in and out of the water, smaller and smaller, as any moment they could get swooped up by a mean ol’ bird.

  35. Oh this is sooo sad, but what an amazing thing that your friend did! I was supposed to volunteer with turtles for a week in Costa Rica a few years ago, but the road got washed out due to storms, so wasn’t able too. Turtles have a special place in my heart.

  36. What an amazing story! I think that given how endangered turtles are, one save is a really great thing. That turtle will hopefully live another day to lay hundreds of eggs, and you guys are to thank for it!

  37. I’m so glad you guys were able to save the little guy. I’ve always wanted to witness a turtle hatching. I hear there is a great place to go watch every year in Grenada.

  38. Wow! Thats an incredible story!

  39. Especially after our experience, I would LOVE to see a hatching!

  40. An experience to say the least…sad but with a nice ending!

  41. Heartwarming story. It must have meant so much more to you after seeing the ones who hadn’t made it. Of course, it’s the way of the world, isn’t it? Hiking a remote canyon a couple of weeks back, we remarked on the quantity of dead birds we found, without that food you might have found a beach of bird skeletons. Still, our instinct is always with the hunted/the victim isn’t it. Turtles have a very special place in my heart. Quite a few turn up here on the islands injured by boats or as a result of pollution (ingesting plastic bags for instance), and I went to a release last year of some of the ones which had been saved and nursed back to health. It was very emotional as they made their ways out into the ocean. Well done!

  42. My friend is such a hero. :)

  43. I have always wanted to do this- very high on the ole bucket list. I would be so scared for the little turtles.

  44. Didn’t realize that first photo was actually the skeleton of the turtle, til you mentioned it on the post. Sad face. So great that you guys could save at least one of them! Cheers to that.

  45. That first skeleton was so frightening because of his little head! Then there were shells all around. :( We were SO happy to save one!

  46. I would love to be able to do that once, saving the turtles must have been really cool. As a kid I always cried when I saw documentaries about little turtles being eaten by birds before they could reach the ocean….

  47. Yes! That is so traumatizing for a kid! It’s crazy that they have to lay so many eggs so that a very, very few survive.

  48. I’m glad this post had a happy ending since the images of the turtle graveyard and vultures feasting were intense. Yay for being a rescuer!

  49. That’s amazing that your friend was able to help – kudos to her. But would she have been punished by law if she were caught? I know in some places there are fines of up to $10,000 USD for touching a sea turtle. Hopefully they would have seen that she wasn’t harming it in any way though.

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