The first leatherback sea turtles of the season arrived last week to nest on the sandy shores of the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
The turtles were spotted at Playa Junquillal, a small beach community just south of Tamarindo, and Playa Grande, a beach inside Las Baulas National Marine Park, just to the north.
The unusually early arrival of the turtles, almost one month ahead of schedule, according to biologists, has given conservationists hope for a fruitful season ahead.
The Junquillal nest was located by locals on the beach, and then protected by a crew of local beach patrollers, known as the “Baula Boys,” who fenced it to prevent local dogs or other creatures from disturbing it.
The turtles are expected to arrive two to three more times at the beach, as most leatherbacks do.
Junquillal is the site of a community project funded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and directed by Argentine biologist Gabriel Francia, which has sought to educate locals in the importance of turtles, to both the ecosystem and local tourism.
Francia reports that turtle poaching during the two-year program has dropped from near 100% to 15% thanks to the project’s focus.
In nearby Playa Grande, five turtles arrived in so many days, according to park director Rodney Piedra. He says the accelerated pace bodes well for surpassing last year’s total of just 58 turtles, the lowest return of nesting females since record-keeping began, and perhaps the lowest ever.
“We’re hoping for a much greater number of turtles this year, improving our chances for conserving the species,” Piedra said. Leatherback sea turtle numbers in the Pacific Ocean are on the brink of extinction, their numbers having plummeted 90% in the past 20 years.
Both biologists caution that increasing development on local nesting beaches, which leads to lights that disorient baby turtles, is threatening populations, as is mortality at sea and egg poaching.
A dispute over the slow pace of expropriations of private land inside Las Baulas National Park has incensed environmental groups of late (TT, Sept. 7).
Earlier this month, they delivered a letter with the signatures of 7,685 Costa Rican citizens, and Wednesday, environmental groups marched from the offices of the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE) in San José, to Casa Presidencial to demand the President’s support in the cause.