Tortuguero ( ~the place where the turtles come to) is located in Costa Rica’s Caribbean province of Limón, about 40 km from the Nicaraguan coast and can only be reached by boat or plane.
Tortuguero is a small village with about 700 inhabitants, situated on the edge of the nature reserve of the same name. The village was founded in the 1930s by a Colombian family who had come to Tortuguero to live from coconut cultivation and sea turtles. In the 1940s, American logging companies settled in Tortuguero to exploit the forest. Now that work was available, the actual immigration to Tortuguero began, especially from Nicaragua. The cut tree trunks were transported by sea to the provincial capital Limón, but since the Caribbean is very wild in this part, the losses were high. At the end of the 1960s, an 80 km long canal river system was dredged from Limón to Tortuguero by connecting natural rivers with canals. Until today these canals are the most important transport and travel route to Tortuguero. The logging companies left Tortuguero at the end of the 1970s. Only a few families remained. It was not until the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s that a new wave of migration began, which was sparked by the beginning of tourism and continues to this day.
Back in the 1950s, the us biologist Archie Carr chose Tortuguero for his research on sea turtles. At that time, many ships came to the coast of Tortuguero to slaughter thousands of turtles to be exported to the USA and Europe. At Archie Carr’s instigation, Tortuguero was placed under protection in 1975. The area that has grown since then protects the Tortuguero National Park, the Barro Colorado Forest Reserve with its Atlantic lowland rainforest and 50000 hectares of the Caribbean. The area consists of several islands and mainland parts. Tortuguero is located on the main island, which is bordered on one side by the Caribbean and on the other by fresh water. It has a length of 36 km, but at its widest point it is only 400 m wide. The Tortuguero National Park has a unique canal and lagoon landscape, lined with dense primeval forest, providing a habitat for a variety of animals and plants. This biodiversity and the high rainfall earned the area the nickname “Amazon of Costa Rica”.
Tortuguero is home to about half the bird species found in Costa Rica (about 350), 6 wildcat species (jaguar, puma, ocelot, tree ocelot, weasel cat, ocelot cat), tapirs, manatees, peccaries and many other mammals, including numerous bat species, oppossums, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. In Tortuguero there are three species of monkeys, the mantled howler monkey, the white shoulder capuchin monkey and the Central American spider monkey. The latter is most threatened with extinction, as its food (soft fruits, flower buds and leaves) means that it can only survive in a forest with a great variety of plants. Other mammals such as coatis, sloths and raccoons are better seen in young secondary forests. There they find plenty of food, as the diversity is limited, but the few species are more abundant. Since the forest in Tortuguero is very dense and there are natural predators, they are not often seen here. In general, it can be said that the more pristine the rainforest, the higher the species richness, the lower the individual density. The more plant species there are (about 400 tree species and 2000 plant species in Tortuguero), the lower the food supply for the individual specialists, who therefore only occur in small populations. Especially in the rainforest many very close biological communities have developed, e.g. each fig species is pollinated by another fig wasp species. Or a green alga lives in the hairs of the three-finger sloth, which camouflages the sloth better, but comes closer to the sunlight with the sloth in the treetops. The sloth’s fur also contains a moth species that feeds on the algae. Of course, this also means that if one of these species is exploited, others will die, as in the case of the Buffon’s Macaw, whose main food tree is cut down everywhere.
Of the seven species of sea turtles worldwide, four come to Tortuguero to lay their eggs. The green turtles (Chelonia mydas) come between June and October, the mighty leatherback turtles between February and June. The other two species, the hawksbill and the loggerhead sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata and Caretta caretta) occur in very small numbers. The hawksbill turtle is very endangered as its meat and eggs are eaten, and the shell is used for handicrafts, jewellery and spectacle frames. The hawksbill turtle comes between April and October, the loggerhead turtle between April and May, but no females of the loggerhead turtle have been observed laying eggs in recent years.