Protecting the last major nesting beaches for East Pacific leatherbacks is critical to halting the extinction of this critically endangered population. Protection of secondary nesting beaches can also help to ensure the survival of leatherbacks and other sea turtles. The Leatherback Trust helps to protect turtles at major and secondary nesting beaches in Costa Rica and around the world.
Las Baulas National Park
Parque Marino Nacional Las Baulas (Las Baulas National Park) is located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica in Guanacaste. Established by Presidential decree in 1990 and adopted by law in 1995, the Park includes three nesting beaches (Playa Langosta, Playa Grande and Playa Ventanas), three mangrove estuaries (Estero de Tamarindo, Estero de Ventanas and Estero de San Francisco) and coastal waters extending 12 miles offshore.
Las Baulas National Park hosts the highest density of nesting leatherbacks on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. In the 1980s, up to 200 female leatherbacks nested on Playa Grande nightly from late September to March and poachers took 100% of the eggs. Maria Teresa Koberg began efforts to protect the nests in 1988, bringing boy scouts, students, and friends to the beach to stop poachers from collecting the eggs. TLT’s founders joined forces with her, campaigning to establish Las Baulas National Park and converting local poachers to park rangers and tour guides. By 1993, we celebrated a 99% protection rate for nests laid inside the park. In 1998, TLT further improved nesting success rates by establishing a hatchery to protect nests that would be washed away by high tides.
The near total poaching of eggs during the 1980s devastated the East Pacific leatherback population. Coastal development of nesting beaches and incidental capture of leatherbacks in fisheries pushed the population closer to extinction. East Pacific leatherbacks can take up to 20-30 years to reach maturity, meaning that the 99% of hatchlings we protected in 1993 may now be reaching adulthood and require continuing protection to rebuild the population.
Adjacent to Santa Rosa National Park, Playa Cabuyal is located on the Gulf of Papagayo in northwest Costa Rica. Cabuyal is a common nesting beach for green and olive ridley turtles, provides a secondary beach for leatherback turtles and hosts sporadic nesting by hawksbill turtles. TLT began working in Cabuyal in 2011. Our presence on the beach has reduced egg poaching from more 90% to less than 4% in this remote area.
The Cabuyal Sea Turtle Project studies and conserves sea turtles nesting at Playa Cabuyal and other marine life within the Gulf of Papagayo, a productive area of the Pacific alongside Costa Rica. The project focuses on leatherback, green, and olive ridley turtles, which emerge to nest on Playa Cabuyal from August to April. Volunteers work with biologists from The Leatherback Trust to collect data on nesting turtles and hatchlings as part of a study on how climate change affects sea turtles. Results from this study informs efforts to protect sea turtles at Playa Cabuyal and other nesting beaches affected by climate change.