Parque Marino Las Baulas
CONSERVATION LESSONS FROM A NEW NATIONAL PARK AND FROM
45 YEARS OF CONSERVATION OF SEA TURTLES IN COSTA RICA
James R. Spotila and Frank V. Paladino
THE EDGE OF THE SEA marks one boundary of the tropical dry forest in Costa Rica. Just as the ocean draws Costa Ricans and foreigners to vacation spots along the Pacific coast in the summer, the beaches are a magnet for biologists, conservationists, developers, and politicians. This is because the beaches are critical habitat for all these people and a focal point for one of the greatest dramas in conservation at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Biologists come to study sea turtles and other exotic flora and fauna, conservationists come to save species from extinction, developers come with international financing to foster coastal development as an economic boom, and politicians chant the mantra of “sustainable development” to justify the uncontrolled spread of tourist and residential facilities along the coast. In one sense, all these people interact in a play that will determine the future of this ecotone between the forest and the marine ecosystems. Local residents are on stage as minor characters, and exotic species make occasional cameo appearances to attract the attention of tourists and potential buyers of land and houses before disappearing from the scene. It is not at all clear that this play will have a happy ending.
The star of this play is the flagship species for this ecotone, the sea turtle. Unfortunately for the star and its ecosystem, it is not clear whether in the future we will look back on this play as high drama, a comedy of errors, or a tragedy. The stage is one of the newest parks in the Costa Rican system of natural areas, Parque Marino Las Baulas. The park is situated along the Guanacaste coast and protects the largest surviving nesting population of leatherback turtles in the Pacific Ocean.
In this chapter we focus on the biology of sea turtles that nest on tropical dry forest beaches of Costa Rica; give the history of conservation efforts for these species in Costa Rica; discuss local, national, and international aspects of this conservation activity; present the status of Par-