Leatherback nesting beaches in Costa Rica threatened by development

San Jose, Costa Rica – A letter was delivered today to Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla from 478 concerned scientists opposed to legislation that would weaken protections for sea turtles in Las Baulas National Park, one of the last nesting areas for critically endangered Pacific leatherbacks left in the world. Randall Arauz, director of Programa Restauracion de Tortugas Marinas (PRETOMA), delivered the letter.

Click here to download the letter delivered to President Laura Chinchilla.

The scientists’ concern is based on language in a proposed law written under President Arias to downgrade Las Baulas National Park to a wildlife refuge. Losing the National Park status would allow building of beach houses, hotels and other structures along sensitive beach areas. A vote on the proposed law has not taken place.

“While the bill to downgrade the park has not been brought up for discussion under President Chinchilla’s government, it still exists and until it’s tabled the threat remains”, said Randall Arauz, president of the Costa Rican organization PRETOMA and long time supporter of the park. “This letter shows yet again how the international community is concerned about the protection of this country’s biodiversity.”

University sea turtle researchers, professors, scientists and concerned conservation professionals from 48 separate countries and territories signed the letter. The lead signature is from Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer, author, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and Chief Scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from 1990-1992.

“Leatherbacks nesting on Costa Rican beaches may disappear if more coastal development and light pollution continue to degrade suitable nesting beaches. The global scientific community does not want to see this happen” said Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project based in California, one of the scientists who signed the letter and coordinated the effort.

Costa Rica’s reputation protecting leatherback turtles, preserving the rare wildlife in its national parks, and planning for climate change and sea level rise would experience a major setback if the law were to be enacted. As sea levels rise due to climate change, it is more critical than ever that beaches and dunes next to existing beaches are protected to provide habitat for sea turtle nesting.

Nesting beaches in Las Baulas National Park in northern Costa Rica are critical to the survival of the endangered eastern Pacific leatherback sea turtle. Their populations have crashed by at least 95 percent over the past two decades and are not recovering. Coastal development and rising sea levels are combining to degrade and destroy the few nesting beaches left for the largest sea turtles in the world.