Newborn Turtles Make their Way to the Sea in Playa Junquillal, Guanacaste.
From the Caribbean’s winding Tortuguero canals to the nicoya peninsula’s beach environments, Costa Rica is famous for its turtle watching. Indeed, this small country hosts four the the world’s seven marine turtle species on both coasts, providing much-needed nesting grounds for the Hawksbill (carey), leatherback (baula or canal), Olive Ridley (lora), and the Pacific Green (negra).
The leatherback sea turtle is the largest of all living turtles, and the only remaining species in the genus Dermochelys. As the genus’s name alludes to, the leatherback does not have the typical hard shell protection of other turtles, but instead has only a covering of rough, resistant skin that is covered in oil. They have been on the U.S. list of endangered species since 1970.
At home in Costa Rica, the leatherback is protected by various ecological groups and organizations, such as the Leatherback Trust, a nonprofit group that labors daily to protect this important species from harm. Their efforts are extremely important, as experts began warning in 2003 that leatherbacks, the longest-living marine species to ever exist, were on the verge of extinction.
Though the turtle’s themselves are not often poached (due to their tough and oily skin), the leatherbacks’ eggs are highly sought-after by poachers. In addition, since leatherbacks lay their eggs on beaches, their nests are often disturbed and destroyed by beach goers, surfers, and other bystanders that aren’t aware of their presence. Today, scientists estimate that there are fewer than 5,000 nesting leatherbacks alive today, a staggering 95 percent decline from 1980 statistics.
Though leatherback news seems bad, signs are showing that conservation efforts are starting to take effect. In the las six months, hundreds of baby baulas have hatched at Playa Junquillal, a Pacific coast beach near Santa Cruz, Guanacaste. In even better news, area experts report that this has been the most successful nesting season in years.
The majority of the season’s incredible 886 baby leatherbacks were born in the protected nursery, la Conservación de Baulas del Pacífico (Pacific Leatherback Conservation), a subproject for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The project allows for a group of volunteers to go into a closed, protected area where humidity and temperature are controlled to ideal conditions for leatherback turtle nests and their eggs. The volunteers, often well trained ecologists, help the baby reptiles to survive. During this past season, 25 nests were detected, each holding between 50 and 80 eggs. There was only one plundered nest, and the organization reported a historical percentage of egg breakage, at only 62 percent for the fragile packages. Because of their efforts and successes, Playa Junquillal was likely the most important leatherback nesting beach in Costa Rica during 2007.
This year’s news has been everything that experts hoped for, and countrywide efforts are gearing up again for the next nesting season, which begins in October. New waves of volunteers are sure to come in, as well as many repeats from last year, and all involved are hoping to improve upon 2007’s huge successes for the endangered leatherback turtle.
Record Numbers of Baby Turtles Hatched in Costa Rica