Run by the San Carlos University Center for Conservation Studies (CECON), the Tortugario Monterrico provides a much-needed service along this slice of Guatemala’s Pacific coast. This area is an important nesting site for olive ridley, leatherback, and green sea turtles. Some of this land – including beaches and mangrove swamps – fall under the protection of the Biotopo Monterrico-Hawaii, which works to preserve the area’s natural habitat and the creatures that depend upon it. Even so, that doesn’t always stop locals from poaching and selling turtle eggs. Tortugario-Monterrico offers to buy eggs found on the beach from the finders. Guatemalan law says that residents may keep only a % of eggs found. The rest they must sell to the tortugarios for hatch and release.
The Tortugario Monterrico runs a turtle hatchery along the beach where collected eggs are reburied and allowed to hatch in protection. The nesting season runs from June through January, but peaks in August and September. The average nest contains around 100 eggs. Olive ridley turtles typically have a 50-day incubation period, while leatherbacks tends to incubate for around 70 days. Once the turtles have hatched they may be held for a few days awaiting favorable conditions before being released in early morning or late evening hours.
There is also a visitors center here and an interpretive trail that runs past enclosures housing freshwater turtles, alligators, and green iguanas. These animals will also be released into the wild. The sea turtles are typically released at sunrise or sunset from September to January. The Tortugario Monterrico releases around 50,000 baby sea turtles each year.
Travelers are allowed to help with the releases. If you choose to get involved, please refrain from using flashlights or flash photography—the lights scare and disorient the turtles. The Tortugario Monterrico also has positions for Spanish-speaking volunteers who want to help with daily activities.