Get Up Close With Chelonioidea
Sea turtles, or Chelonioidea as they are known scientifically, are one of nature’s most awe inspiring creatures. These gentle marine reptiles can live to 50 or more years of age, lay dozens of eggs in a single session, and hold their breath for hours underwater.
Twenty minutes south of the Orquidea is El Refugio De Vida Silvestre La Flor, also known simply as Playa Flor. This 3,000-hectare coastal preserve is the cherished site of the arribadas – the “mass arrivals” of olive ridley turtles that emerge from the sea by the thousands to lay their eggs in the sands of its naturally protected, horseshoe-shaped bay. One of only a handful of such arribada sites in the world, it is one of nature’s most spectacular shows to witness these beautiful creatures come ashore hundreds at a time to give life in fascinating synchronization.
More than 100,000 nests are laid each year at Playa Flor. Arribadas take place several times throughout the year, with the heaviest swarms happening in October. Approximately 50 days after a mother lays her nest, the eggs hatch and the baby turtles make their way en masse to the ocean. Numerous conservation efforts are in effect, including the aggregation and coordinated release of hatchlings so that each one has a better chance of survival when released as part of a larger group. Frequently, the government office at the entrance of the refuge has baskets of hatchlings and visitors can perform the incredible feat of releasing baby turtles into the surf at sunset.
This adventure feels every bit as amazing as it sounds. Part of what makes it so special is knowing that getting this up close and personal with nature is very rare to find elsewhere in the world, especially in the United States. Here in Nicaragua, you can walk on the beach at the same time as the mothers are laying their nests (be careful not to get run over by one – they do not change their trajectory so you’d better move out of the way!) and hold a baby hatchling in your hand. Only time will tell if this open access will be retained or if future visitors will have to watch from afar on a viewing platform set away from the action. Enjoy it while you can!