Sea turtle conservation, Costa Rica

Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) Costa Rica is part of WIDECAST’S Latin American programme to ensure the survival of Latin American sea turtles and their habitats through research, conservation, outreach, education, capacity building and, above all, human commitment.

Pacuare Beach, northern Costa Rica, is an important nesting site for Leatherback and Green turtles, and also visited by rare Hawksbill turtles, listed by the IUCN as ‘in danger’ or ‘in critical danger’ of extinction. 400-700 turtle nests a year are registered on this beach. The main threats for turtles and nests are unsustainable fishing practices, exploitation by humans for food, beach erosion, habitat loss and pollution. Pacuare is a remote area, only accessible by boat and home to a small community. This project will:
– Involve and train members of the local community as well as international volunteers and scientists to carry out beach patrols, operate an egg incubation hatchery, monitor nests, collect and evaluate data during nesting, tag females and stay one step ahead of poachers
– Replant 1,000 trees and organise beach cleans to improve the turtles’ habitat
– Produce educational material about sea turtles and their conservation for locals and tourists
– Involve at least 250 school children in environmental outreach programmes

The Update

LAST reported good progress in their interim report in October 2014. Nightly patrols are carried out to deter poaching of sea turtles and their nests on Pacuare Beach. Because both green and hawksbill turtles are killed for their meat, all turtles encountered are guarded and ensured a safe return to the ocean. 85 turtles were tagged and data recorded on their biometrics and nesting activities. In total, 146 leatherback, 19 green and 18 hawksbill turtles nests have been encountered and, due to the risk of being poached, all nests were relocated to a hatchery where they are monitored 24 hours a day, or relocated to safe locations on the beach. So far, 80 nests were relocated to the hatchery. Temperatures of nests in the hatchery are being monitored in order to address the issue of rising temperatures and changes in hatchling sex ratios which are a product of global warming. 60 leatherback nests have hatched so far this season with an average of 55% hatching success, together with 8 hawksbill (93% success), and 7 green turtle nests (75% success rate) meaning that they expect 10,655 turtles to be released from all species.
Members of the local community have been involved in training on turtle protection and biology, as well as in making turtle friendly jewellry. These training sessions provide people with alternative sources of income to encourage them to stop poaching turtles, and to instead protect the turtles.
So far 124 children from local schools have participated in beach cleans, hatchling releases and tree planting, all designed to benefit the turtles directly and to raise awareness and education of these important creatures.

Image: Hatchlings. Image credit: Widecast