Leatherback conservation in Costa Rica
Latin America/Caribbean > Central America > Costa Rica
Junquillal beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline is one of the country’s most important nesting beaches for leatherback turtles. But because the beach is not a protected area, illegal egg harvesting is a major problem.
To reduce the number of poached leatherback nests, WWF is developing alternative income sources for the local community, such as from ecotourism and the production and marketing of handicrafts. Community members are also involved in monitoring the beaches, and the construction and operation of a marine turtle hatchery, where eggs are brought in and protected until the hatchlings are released.
Junquillal beach, located in Guanacaste province, Costa Rica, was recently discovered by biologist Gabriel Francia, to be among the most important nesting sites of Pacific leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) in the country. Francia, who is now project leader, found there were up to 50 nests per year between 2004 and 2006.
However, the only relationship local residents had with the turtles was the illegal collection of eggs for sale or consumption. Rampant nest poaching meant that no leatherback hatchling reached the sea, despite regular nesting efforts year after year. Junquillal has no protected area status.
In 2005, WWF initiated a conservation project in Junquillal Beach, to improve the survival outlook for leatherbacks and other marine turtle species.
The bottom-line approach is the establishment of a relationship between sea turtle conservation and improved quality of life for coastal communities. In order to engage the community, heads of families and teachers were invited to an environmental education workshop that stimulated their curiosity and critical thinking about natural resources of the schoolyards and beaches.
The positive response to this activity led to the establishment of the environmental education programme, which has involved schools from Junquillal and other nearby beaches. The work continues to employ local, provincial or national resources to the greatest extent possible, stimulates conservation by the community, respects the community work pace, and displays creativity in adapting to emerging needs. WWF is facilitating the implementation of a Community Livelihoods Improvement Plan in Junquillal.
1. Maintain Junquillal beaches in adequate conditions for nesting and hatching of leatherbacks, olive ridley and Eastern Pacific green turtles by means of organized groups of the local communities.
2. Protect marine turtles against hunting and egg harvesting and monitor female nesting activities on beaches through constant night patrolling.
3. Improve environmental conservation efforts, raising environmental awareness of the urgency required to protect this species. The implementation of the Community Livelihood Improvement Program (CLIP) that links marine turtle conservation and community livelihoods and well-being, will improve the marine turtle conservation effort.
4. Promote the development of productive activities related to sea turtle conservation as alternative income sources to the local community.
1. Beach night patrolling and construction of a hatchery for the protection of marine turtle nests.
2. Motivation for the development of ecotourism and handicraft production.
3. Environmental education.
Within 2 years of launching the project, plundering of leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), black turtle (Chelonia mydas agassizi) and olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) nests at Junquillal has been virtually eliminated.
Zero egg collection is a historic achievement for nest survival of these species at this beach. Hatching has gone from almost none to approximately 10,000 leatherbacks, black turtles and olive ridleys per year. In addition, 246 leatherback hatchlings were released from five nests from the hatchery in 2006.
WWF’s challenge is to ensure sustainability of this outstanding turn-around in community attitudes and behaviour, and to use Junquillal as a catalyst for other coastal communities at key nesting sites.