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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Costa Rica proposes to downgrade Las Baulas National Park, threatening leatherback sea turtles


"This new law introduced by President Arias will be the death of the Costa Rican National Park System and the protection it provides to your environmental national treasures. The world has looked-up to Costa Rica as an example of how to shape an ecotouristic economy; yet this action by the Arias administration will open Pandora’s box to the elimination and attacks on all the other national parks," marine biologist Frank Paladino of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne stated in a letter.



Leatherback sea turtle laying eggs on a beach in Suriname. Photo by Tiffany Roufs.
The law if passed would reduce protected area along the beaches where leatherbacks nest from 120 meters to 50. It would further allow a wide-variety of development, including condominiums and tourist facilities. Conservationists say that such developments would bring a flood of people, vehicles, and domestic animals that will harm the leatherback habitat.

"[The Leatherback sea turtle] 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," explains President and co-founder of the Blue Ocean Institute, Carl Safina. "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."

On hatching sea turtles head toward the lightest area on the horizon, which in a natural environment is the ocean. Electric lights often lead turtle hatchlings astray, sometimes causing heavy mortality among baby sea turtles.

The government has stated that its reasoning for downgrading the park is that it is too expensive to purchase the land set aside for the park. Yet conservationists attest that the government estimates for purchasing park land are grossly inflated and that the Costa Rican government has several means at its disposal to acquire the land.



Leatherback sea turtle returning to the ocean after laying eggs on a beach in Suriname. Photo by Tiffany Roufs.
"I think the important thing here is that it would be very easy to acquire the land within Las Baulas park if the government had a one dollar a night tax on hotel rooms and one dollar a day tax on rental cars. That would raise at least 10 million a year, a conservative estimate, and a 30-year bond could be done to raise 300 million that could be used to reimburse all landowners in all parks and have an endowment for the parks into the future. What is missing is the political will in the government," offered Jim Spotila, president of Leatherback Trust.

In addition, conservationists say that the President's proposal to downgrade the park violates numerous agreements it has signed including Peace with Nature; the International Sea Turtle Convention; the Convention on Biological Diversity Biological; as well as the Convention for the Protection of Flora, Fauna and Natural Scenic Beauty of the Americas.

Taken from:
Mongabay

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