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The Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, Heart of Ostional

An Olive Ridley climbs out of the ocean at sunset at the Refugio de Vida Silvestre in Ostional. Photo by Carlos Clemens.

Since the 1970s, sea turtles have held international status as a protected species, and use of any sea turtle product has been severely restricted to rural communities adjacent to nesting beaches (Sardeshpande et al., 2018).

Interestingly, 80% of global sea turtle nesting sites occur in developing nations, with only 25% of these sites lying within protected areas (Mazaris et al., 2014). At the same time, sea turtle products remain a vital source of income and provide economic stability to local coastal communities, be it through tourism, egg harvesting or hunting. It’s easy to see why the health and longevity of the species directly translates to the vitality of a local economy, and why in this case, the Olive Ridley sea turtle has become the heart of Ostional.

The Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre in Ostional, declared a protected area in 1982, is the second largest nesting site of the Olive Ridley sea turtle in the world. It’s also a site of legal egg harvesting during the first hours of the arribada. Harvesting during this time is justified by the observation that nests laid at the beginning of an arribada are often destroyed by the females arriving to nest later (Pritchard et al., 2007; Valverde et al., 2012). Although controversial in its inception, the egg harvesting project is an important example of sea turtle conservation integrated with sustainable community development.

The arribada at el Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre in Ostional. Photo by ASA 50 Photography.

Despite international attention and regional emphasis on the health of the species, relatively little is known about the turtle's habits. But we do know that the arribada phenomena contributes to the region’s biodiversity in several ways.

One widely held belief is that the egg harvesting project has helped enhance the nesting habitat by oxygenating the sand and clearing excessive organic matter from the area (Bézy et al., 2015). The egg harvesting project at Ostional incentivizes the regional economy and population to abide by conservation policies, operating within a system that protects species beyond the turtle (such as nocturnal wildlife, avian species and marine life).

An Olive Ridley digs up eggs in the sand on the beach at the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre en Ostional. Photo by Vanessa Bézy.

Despite varying interest in the Olive Ridley turtle, global attention on this species provides compelling evidence to the fact that community-based conservation successfully integrates development goals with sustainable outcomes (Roe et al., 2009) and influences behavior to achieve conservation goals. We see this exact system in practice in Ostional, where growing economic adaptability mirrors the increasing emphasis on sustainable tourism, contributing to a healthier, holistic-ecosystem.

Ever wonder what thousands of turtles nesting on a beach at sunset looks like? Join National Geographic explorer and WCA Scientific Director Vanessa Bézy, along with expert, local Ostional Guides during the next arribada. This tour allows you to experience firsthand the awesome phenomena and directly learn about local conservation efforts in practice. Join us and book today!



Sardeshpande, M., & MacMillan, D. (2019). Sea turtles support sustainable livelihoods at Ostional, Costa Rica. Oryx, 53(1), 81-91.

Bézy, V.S., Valverde, R.A. & Plante, C.J. (2015) Olive ridley sea turtle hatching success as a function of the microbial abundance in nest sand at Ostional, Costa Rica. PLoS ONE, 10(2), e0118579.

Pritchard, P.C.H. (2007) Arribadas I have known. In Biology and Conservation of Ridley Sea Turtles (ed. Plotkin, P.T.), pp. 14–20. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA.

Valverde, R., Orrego, C., Blanco, R., Albavera, E., Harfush, M., Tripathy, B. & Shanker, K. (2012) Global estimate of arribada olive ridley sea turtles. In Proceedings of the Twenty-ninth International Sea Turtle Symposium (compilers Belskis, L., Frick, M., Panagopoulou, A., Rees, A.F. & Williams, K.), pp. 34. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-630, Miami, USA.

Roe, D., Nelson, F. & Sandbrook, C. (eds) (2009) Community Management of Natural Resources in Africa: Impacts, Experiences and Future Directions, Natural Resource Issues No. 18. International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK.

Andrade, G.S.M. & Rhodes, J.R. (2012) Protected areas and local communities: an inevitable partnership toward successful conservation strategies? Ecology and Society, 17(4), 14.

Challender, D.W.S. & MacMillan, D.C. (2014) Poaching is more than an enforcement problem. Conservation Letters, 7, 484–494

Frey, J.B. & Berkes, F. (2014) Can partnerships and community-based conservation reverse the decline of coral reef social-ecological systems? International Journal of the Commons, 8, 26–46.

Salerno, J., Borgerhoff Mulder, M., Grote, M.N., Ghiselli, M. & Packer, C. (2015) Household livelihoods and conflict with wildlife in community-based conservation areas across northern Tanzania. Oryx, 50, 702–712.

Ostional Wildlife Refuge. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2022, from

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