I have to admit. I have a soft spot for turtles. Yes, I actually cried the first time I witnessed a female leatherback turtle laying her eggs in the soft sand above the high-water mark. To think that a species that has been swimming the oceans for 200 million years is at the point of extinction was almost too much to bear. Was I witnessing the very last generation of leatherbacks to be born?
Six of the world's eight species of marine turtles nest on Costa Rica's beaches, and you can see turtles laying eggs somewhere in Costa Rica virtually any time of year. That doesn't mean that things are healthy.
Tortuguero National Park, in northeastern Costa Rica, is one of fewer than 30 places in the world that the green turtle considers clean enough and safe enough to lay its eggs. Although green turtles were once abundant throughout the Caribbean, today there are only three major sites in the region where they nest: one on Aves Island (west of Montserrat), a second at Costa Rica's Gandoca-Manzanillo, and the major site at Tortuguero.
On the Pacific coast, the most spectacular nestings are at Playa Nancite, in Santa Rosa National Park, and Ostional Wildlife Refuge, and recently at Playa Camaronal, where tens of thousands of olive ridley turtles come ashore July-December in synchronized mass nestings known as arribadas. Giant leatherback turtles nest at Playa Grande, near Tamarindo, October-April and in lesser numbers at several other beaches. Hawksbills, ridleys, leatherbacks, Pacific greens, and occasionally loggerheads (primarily Caribbean nesters) appear in lesser numbers at other beaches along the Pacific coast.
Most of the important nesting sites in Costa Rica are now protected, and access to some is restricted. Nonetheless, turtle populations continue to decline because of illegal harvesting and environmental pressure, and all species are now critically endangered.
If you're interested in helping save endangered marine turtles, consider volunteering with the following organizations:
Caribbean Conservation Corps  (CCC, 4424 NW 13th St. Suite #A1, Gainesville, FL 32609, U.S. tel. 352/373-6441 or 800/678-7853)
Earthwatch Institute  (3 Clock Tower Place, Suite 100, Box 75, Maynard, MA 01754, U.S. tel. 978/461-0081 or 800/776-0188)
Save the Turtles of Parismina  (P.O. Box 738, Occidental, CA 94565, tel. 707/538-8084)