A Call to Costa Rica to Protect Pacific Leatherbacks

The following op-ed by Carl Safina appeared in LaNacion, on September 2, 2009.  For the spanish version click here!

Editor, La Nacion

To the Editor,

Many international conservationists are disturbed by news that Costa Rica’s Congress is considering a bill to do away with Las Baulas National Park. Baulas is not only absolutely vital to the existence of Costa Rica’s Pacific leatherback sea turtles. It is the most important remaining nesting ground of this critically endangered turtle in the entire east Pacific Ocean.

Safina and Leatherbac#3C1FD hi resThese turtles are extraordinary; they can weigh up to one ton. A few years ago, I traveled throughout the Atlantic and Pacific while researching a book I wrote on these creatures. I saw many of their sites and former sites, and came to understand what is needed for their survival, and how, in well-managed sites in the Caribbean, especially Trinidad, these turtles draw many tourists.

Their Pacific population is in great trouble due mainly to beach disturbance.  They have declined by about 98 percent since the early 1980s. Former large nesting populations in Mexico are a tiny fraction of earlier numbers. In the west Pacific, the leatherback turtle’s largest population has apparently gone extinct in the last few years. These creatures, and the world, need Costa Rica to do what it can to protect the remaining Pacific leatherbacks and promote their recovery. 

And so little is required.  All that is needed is darkness on the beach at night and protection of nests. The beach at Las Baulas Park that is currently without houses should remain so, and the Park should be reaffirmed by Costa Rica’s Congress. Existing homeowners should keeps lights low and use yellow bulbs outside at night. For this little investment, Costa Rica and cooperating local homeowners would make a significant contribution to world conservation.

Carl Safina, PhD

Blue Ocean Institute

Stony Brook University, New York, USA

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