The Parable of the Costa Rican Sea Turtles: They don’t want your help!

My trouble grappling with this war comes from my disbelief that anyone in this country is still in support of it.  There has to be a large population of the country that still believes that Iraq is being made a better place by enforcing our help on them.  On a recent dinner with Isaac, he told me this tale…which I think should be told to anyone who thinks that they should enforce their help on another whether or not the other wants it.

They give a warning on the beaches of Costa Rica, “Don’t help the sea turtles!”  Visitors go to the Costa Rican beaches to see the sea turtles lay their eggs, hatch, and crawl back to the ocean.  The mothers have to be sure not to lay her eggs to far away as many baby sea turtles are snatched up by predators.  Knowing this, many good-natured tourists will help the babies on their journey by picking them up and placing them at the waterline.  This is so sweet.  I mean, why wouldn’t the turtle want to be placed closer to it’s goal?

Well, here’s why…

Most of these baby turtles will drown.

We don’t always know what’s best for someone else.  These turtles’ mother thoughtfully placed the nest far enough from the waterline to allow their little turtle-legs to build up the muscles needed to swim in the demanding currents of the ocean.  Obviously they want to reach the ocean, but you can’t force the ocean on them.  Forcing them into the ocean means forcing them into an environment that they are not ready for, can not handle, and will eventually reject them.

Oh, but really…not all these baby turtles drown.  What if I just move them a little bit closer to help them out?  They look like they really want to get to the ocean!

True.  Not all of them drown.  The ones that don’t drown live in the oceans all their lives, unable to return to the beach because they have not spent enough time their to learn its scent.  These turtles live, but you’ve just destroyed their ability to raise a family.  In effect, you’ve crippled their ability to live and thrive as turtles.

I know you think you’re helping, but if you wind up killing and/or crippling those you’re trying to help…do you think they really appreciate it?

Think about it.

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3 Responses to The Parable of the Costa Rican Sea Turtles: They don’t want your help!

  1. Cathie England says:

    Somehow I have to believe this is a wives’ tale. All eight species of sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered on the U.S. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants List. It is illegal to harm or in any way interfere with a sea turtle or its eggs. This is why signs are posted. There are several scientific organizations in Costa Rica devoted to sea turtle research and conservation. This involves taking some baby sea turtles to hatcheries to later be released in the wild. It also involves rescuing wayward babies on the beach. I can’t find any other reference like yours on the internet about drowning. I am wondering what you base this information on? Thanks.

    • Jason Tyne says:

      I like a reader that keeps me on my toes. You are correct that this fable is largely based on nautical legend. Here is the response I got back from the marine biologists at Sea World.

      Dear Jason,

      The primary reason for not relocating hatchlings to the water’s edge is that they are endangered and interfering with them for any reason is illegal, but don’t worry! In most locations where sea turtles nest there are authorized rescue organizations that have knowledgeable personnel who can relocate eggs or hatchlings safely.

      Regarding the leg strength needed to survive…in fact, after hatching, the young turtles may take three to seven days to dig their way to the surface and this activity would increase their muscle strength and coordination more than the actual walk to the water.

      Once they enter the ocean as hatchlings, male sea turtles are rarely seen again. Female sea turtles return to land to nest—usually in the general vicinity to their hatching site. Scientists believe this ability to locate their nesting grounds is genetic with females passing on the code to their daughters. Removing or relocating hatchlings to different sites does not affect their ability to locate their nesting beaches. Recent studies also suggest that some females of some species will visit more than one nesting beach (other than the original beach) in a season.

      We hope this information is helpful.

      The Ask Shamu Team


      For more information about sea turtles, we recommend the following websites:

  2. Cathie England says:

    Thanks so much for digging into this further, Jason. This is exactly the info I was searching for when I ran across your blog. Now it will be a little easier for everyone to get the facts on this issue. Keep up the good work.


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