Hundreds of thousands of olive ridley sea turtles came ashore on Ostional Beach to lay their eggs, but thousands of tourists were already there, doing nearly everything you’re not supposed to do around a threatened species attempting to reproduce.
Photos show the tourists crowding the shoreline so the turtles would have to crawl through the crowds to to dig their nests, or even splashing out into the water to pose for pictures with the turtles. Some of the beachgoers actually put their children on the turtles’ backs, according to the New York Times. Unsurprisingly, the throngs of big, noisy mammals scared the turtles away from their nesting ground. Most of them turned right around and swam back out to sea.
The good news is that at least some of them returned under cover of darkness to finish their business. Conservations found more eggs than they expected, and they think the turtles probably laid those eggs at night, after the tourists had gone home.
Sea turtles usually have an easier time nesting on Costa Rica’s Pacific beaches, because the landscape itself helps guarantee their privacy. Their August-through-October nesting season lines up with Costa Rica’s rainy season, and the flooded Nosara River usually blocks all access to the beach. This year, however, El Niño caused lower rainfall than usual, which made it too easy for tourists to swarm the beach.
Another wave of nesting turtles is expected in October, and the Costa Rican government is planning to double security and restrict access to nesting beaches.
Top image: Steve Jurvetson