As we sit in the boat with the motor switched off, we’re instructed to put away our phones and our worries, to quiet our minds, and to simply listen to the nature that surrounds us. Suddenly it’s a symphony of sound. Birds singing, dragonflies flitting, monkeys calling and the gentle lapping of turtles and caiman as they swim in the lagoon. This is life. Real life. It’s heaven. And by divine providence, we catch the miracle that is the Jesus Christ Lizard—aptly nicknamed for his uncanny ability to run across water.
Accessible only by boat or plane, the region of Tortuguero, Costa Rica is sandwiched between a tranquil lagoon on one side and the beaches of the Caribbean on the other, while its center is filled with a variety of exotic wildlife, vividly colorful flora, friendly people and thousands of turtles.
Watching baby turtles emerge from their sandy nurseries and making the arduous journey into the sea is nothing less than awe-inspiring. In a burst of sand you may find hundreds of these tiny creatures simultaneously break free of their shells, climbing on top of one another to see first light before they hurry down the beach to reach the surf.
Later under cover of night, trying to catch a glimpse of the females as they attempt to lay more eggs is bittersweet. It’s all wondrous to behold—life-affirming really—but the eco-tourist in me, the journalist concerned with sustainable tourism knows that something isn’t quite right.
There are tourists (even other journalists) who are “helping” the hatchlings into the sea and accidentally stepping on them (there are so many underfoot). One of the turtles we spot that night roots around, starts digging her nest before promptly abandoning it and heading back to sea. I ask the tour guide if it’s possible she’s leaving because of us. He explains that there are any number of reasons she’s stopped, but the truth is, we really don’t know.
The government and people of Costa Rica have come a long way in terms of cohabiting with the turtles that the country is so well known for. Educating the locals on the importance of the species and employing them as guides opened alternative means of income (instead of poaching) for individuals and communities.
I still wonder, will being witness to the circle of life make a lasting difference on the scores of people who are at the beach with me that day, or at any given time? Will they do their part to keep the oceans and beaches clean? I’m not sure—but it’s a start.
As far as being eco-friendly and conservationists, in early 2015 Costa Rica declared that 100% of their electricity was from green energy – much of it sourced from hydro in their national park fed rivers. The country is working overtime to educate tourists and getting them to volunteer in a variety of ways toward conservation and preservation while on their travels.
*I got to experience a little bit of Costa Rica while at the 6th International Conference on Sustainable Tourism: Planet, People, Peace (P3), in celebration of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.