A huge swarm of sea turtles emerged on the Costa Rican shore earlier this month to lay eggs, like they do every year. Only problem: Thousands of tourists were there too, getting in the way, prancing around for photos, and even placing their kids on the creatures' backs, Gizmodo reports. The hundreds of thousands of turtles then turned around and simply abandoned their nesting area on Ostional Beach along the Pacific Coast. "It was a mess," a tour guide who witnessed the scene tells the New York Times. It was also an unlikely mess, because the nesting season for olive ridley sea turtles (from August to October) is usually protected by the rainy season, which cuts off the beach by overflowing the Nosara River.
But this year, El Nino caused low rainfall and kept the river from rising too high. So the "mob of eco-tourists" were able to prevent the turtles from taking their course, Tech Times reports. "I almost had a panic attack because it was so crowded," says a US doctoral candidate who's been studying the turtles. "It was basically a free-for-all." According to a wildlife official, the beach is also a wildlife refuge where tourists can only go with a licensed guide—so many of them must have gained access illegally. There are plans to boost security before the turtles' next arrival on October 4, but the turtles did manage to return and lay eggs once the coast was clear. "A tornado can be happening, and they will continue to deposit the eggs, carve it out, nest, and go back to sea," says another wildlife official.