The Challenge of Plastic, Sea Turtles and Clean Seas in Costa Rica

You’ve probably seen the video of the sea turtle with the plastic straw stuck in its nostril. It went viral on the internet in 2015, viewed by millions around the planet, and exemplified how bad ocean pollution is and its effects on marine life. If you haven’t seen it, you can view it here on National Geographic. (Disclaimer: it is not for the faint of heart.) The video shows marine biologists, who were studying olive ridley sea turtles off the coast of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, extract the 4-inch (10 cm) plastic straw. They had found the male olive ridley turtle in distress with the plastic lodged in its nasal cavity, reaching down into his throat. It was inhibiting his breathing and sense of smell, which is important since that’s how sea turtles find food. The good news is that as far as everyone knows, the sea turtle is alive and well. After dislodging the straw, the biologists disinfected the sea turtle’s nose and watched it to make sure it seemed healthy before releasing it back into the ocean.

Ocean pollution is staggering in numbers:

According to data from National Geographic, there are more than 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that amount, 269,000 tons of plastic trash float on the surface, while approximately four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.

Covering more than 70 percent of the Earth, oceans are among our planet’s most valuable natural resources. Oceans control the weather, clean the air, help feed the world, and provide a living for millions of people. They are also home to most of the life on Earth, from microscopic algae to whales. Healthy oceans absorb approximately 25 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions. They are, therefore, critical to fighting climate change and are essential for life at many levels. Today, oceans face unprecedented threats due to human impact. Every year, more than 8 million tons of plastic end up in rivers and seas. At this pace, by 2050, “oceans will have more plastics than fish and approximately 99 percent of marine birds will swallow plastic, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Program. And although scientists know all about the damage to marine life caused by large pieces of plastic, the harm that is potentially caused by microplastics is less known and still being studied.

Costa Rica fights back against plastic:

In Costa Rica, motivated by the plastic straw incident with the sea turtle – an animal the country protects as endangered – and other problems with plastic, the country has pledged to reduce (and hopefully eliminate) the excessive, wasteful use of single-use plastic by the year 2021. Last year, Costa Rica joined the global UN Clean Seas campaign, supporting the worldwide campaign to fight plastic marine debris. On June 6 of this year, newly elected Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado ordered that the country’s public institutions stop purchasing, using, and consuming single-use plastics to reduce pollution. This includes public schools, hospitals, prisons, and government offices. The goal is that, over the next three years, at least 80 percent of the country’s public agencies, municipalities, and businesses replace their disposable plastic use with materials that have a lower environmental impact. Plastic is one of the biggest pollutants in Costa Rica. The Health Ministry has reported that Costa Rica generates 4,000 tons of waste every day, of which 11 percent correspond to plastics that end up in the country’s rivers and eventually out to sea and on coastal beaches. Volunteers and environmentalists are constantly removing tons of plastic waste from the country’s rivers and beaches.**

Horizontes Nature Tours works to protect sea turtles and keep Costa Rica clean:

Costa Rica travel agency Horizontes Nature Tours has been dedicated to sustainability since 1984, ever since it began operations. Horizontes educates all travelers on their tours about conservation and respect for all life on the planet. “We care for the environment and demonstrate our true commitment with our nature, our society, and our culture. We are certified in Sustainable Tourism; we have earned 4 stars in the Blue Flag Program, and have been “Verified” by the Rainforest Alliance,” states Horizontes Nature Tours. Through its private Horizontes Foundation, the agency engages in sustainable environmental and social projects all across the country. For over 20 years, every July, students from the USA come to Costa Rica with Horizontes for two weeks to do volunteer work and enjoy a cultural exchange with families in a rural community. They also travel around Costa Rica to experience the country’s rich biodiversity. They visit Ostional Beach, famous for its massive annual nesting migration of olive ridley sea turtles, called arribadas. Students help clean the beach for the turtles and protect them while they lay their eggs. Horizontes also supports protection programs for sea turtles when they visit Tortuguero National Park, the largest nesting site for green sea turtles in the Western Hemisphere. Tourists who visit Tortuguero with Horizontes Nature Tours usually go on a guided night tour to see nesting sea turtles during the specific seasons.**

“Tortuguero is one of our favorite national parks. In every itinerary that Horizontes has, we always make sure to visit at least two national parks,” said Ana Corrales, Project Coordinator for the Horizontes Foundation. “I think that tours like this really show guests why it is important to take care of the environment and to not pollute the ocean.”


Tortuguero National Park

Location: North Caribbean Coast

Types of sea turtles: Green, leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead

When to visit: July to October (peak in Aug – Sept) for green turtles; February to June (peak in Mar-Apr) for giant leatherback turtles (the largest sea turtle in the world); May to November for hawksbill and loggerhead turtles.

Ostional Wildlife Refuge

Location: the Nicoya Peninsula, north of Nosara

Types of sea turtles: Olive ridley, Pacific green, leatherback

When to visit: July to December for all three turtles, with the peak in arribadas in September and October for olive ridley turtles.

Las Baulas National Marine Park

Location: Playa Grande, Guanacaste; north of Tamarindo Beach

Types of sea turtles: Named for the leatherback turtles – Las Baulas in Spanish.

When to visit: October to March

Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

Location: Southern Caribbean Coast, south of Puerto Viejo

Types of sea turtles: Leatherback, green, hawksbill, loggerhead

When to visit: March to July

Osa Peninsula

Location: Southern Pacific Coast

Types of sea turtles: Leatherback, hawksbill, green, olive ridley

When to visit: March to September for leatherback turtles; July to October for hawksbill and green turtles; June to December for olive ridley turtles.

Hermosa Beach

Location: Central Pacific Coast, south of Jaco Beach

Types of sea turtles: olive ridley

When to visit: July to December

Juan Carlos Ramírez
Marketing Assistant
Hello, I’m Juan Carlos Ramírez. I’ve got a background in Advertising and currently work in tourism, which is a perfect fit for my love of blending creativity with strategy. Beyond the office, I’m passionate about architecture, history, and video games. Exploring the beauty of buildings, uncovering the past, and going on virtual adventures are some of my favorite things. Let’s connect and share some awesome experiences!

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