Costa Rican authorities have launched an investigation after a mob of irresponsible tourists and locals prevented sea turtles from laying their eggs along the country’s Pacific coast.
Crowds swarmed the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, in northwestern Guanacaste, and disrupted the nesting ritual for a number of olive ridley sea turtles, which are listed as a vulnerable or threatened species.
As they gathered in the hundreds, the visitors stood in the turtles’ way as they swam ashore and even placed children on top of them to snap keepsake photos, causing many of the creatures to return to the sea without laying their eggs.
Other tourists touched the turtles, stood on top of their nests and snapped photos with flash cameras, according to the Union of Workers of the Ministry of Environment and Energy.
The union has blasted the tourists and said an investigation will take place to find out why the crowd was not held back over the weekend and how to control visitors in the future so not to interfere with the nesting.
Refuge administrator Carlos Hernandez said he had never seen that many people at the beach, and that some visitors had entered through unauthorised access points, The Tico Times reported.
Although the turtles arrive in large numbers almost every month, September and October are peak times, and tour operators have tried to cash in by offering additional tours to watch the turtles lay their eggs, the newspaper reported.
The report suggested park rangers were overwhelmed by the number of tourists and unable to control the massive crowd on the four-mile stretch of beach, with only two guards on duty as they received help from three national police officers.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Ostional Wildlife Refuge is one of the two most important areas in the world for olive ridley sea turtle nesting.
Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles generally arrive once a month and remain for three to five days at the beach, the WWF said.