Canas Island Wildlife Refuge

The Cañas Island Wildlife Refuge is Panama’s most important nesting site for sea turtles along the Pacific coast. The island is visited by five species of sea turtles, including the olive ridley, Pacififc green, loggerhead, leatherback, and hawksbill. The refuge is set to the south of Pedasi on the Azuero Peninsula and is somewhat difficult to reach.

The most abundant turtle to visit the shores of Cañas Island is the olive ridley. The olive ridley is a grayish-green sea turtle with a heart-shaped top shell. Weighing just 35-45 kilograms, the olive ridley is the smallest of the turtles to visit Panama. The second-most frequent turtle to visit Cañas Island is the Pacific green. The three other species – hawksbill, loggerhead, and leatherback – are usually seen in small numbers. In total, some 20,000-30,000 turtles come to the island to lay their eggs.

The best time of the year to watch the turtles is between September and November. Some turtles do, however, come as early as May. The turtles only lay their eggs at night—if attempting to watch them, do not use flashlights or cameras with a flash, as the turtles are frightened of the light and can easily become disoriented. The moonlight is usually sufficiently bright to allow you to watch the turtles.

The island has a small village where around 900 people live, many of whom help protect the turtles.

Getting to the Cañas Island Wildlife Refuge is tough and involves a boat ride through a muddy mangrove. Given the logical hassle involved in reaching it, it’s easier to book a trip to Cañas Island with a tour operator.

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