The primary objective of national parks worldwide is “to protect natural biodiversity along with its underlying ecological structure and supporting environmental processes, and to promote education and recreation.” The presence of pets, such as dogs and cats, can negatively impact wild species in a national park.
Costa Rica created the National Parks Service, Law 6084, to protect the country’s national heritage and extended this commitment with the creation of the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC). The Costa Rican regulations prohibit entry of pets into national parks. Park officials ask visitors and nearby residents to ensure pets remain at home, promote awareness of national park rules through informational signage, and retain the power to enforce park regulations through legal action.
National parks bear the most stringent regulations of all protected areas, designed to mitigate any threats to wildlife or ecosystems within the park. The National Park Law (article 8, section 9) prohibits the introduction of non-native species to parks, including dogs and cats. Las Baulas National Park’s Regulation on Public Use (D.E. 36918-MINAE, article 16, subsection e) also proscribes entry of pets.
This Park protects habitat essential to the life cycle of critically endangered East Pacific leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea), as well as vulnerable olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and endangered East Pacific green turtles (Chelonia mydas). These sea turtles lay their eggs on the beaches within Las Baulas National Park and, months later, their hatchlings race over the sand to the shoreline.
Degradation or destruction of critical habitat, climate change and fisheries all pose threats to sea turtles at various stages of their life histories. Apart from conservation of important nesting beaches, protecting nests from dogs is an essential first step to ensure the survival of the species from embryonic development to hatching and each hatchling’s race to the sea.
Dr. Nathan Robinson, The Leatherback Trust’s Field Director in Playa Grande, corroborated findings presented in a recent paper indicating that domestic dogs may pose a higher risk to sea turtle nests than feral dogs, since they are driven to dig up nests by curiosity rather than hunger. The resultant exposure can stop embryonic development in sea turtle eggs or make the eggs or hatchlings in the nest an easy target for other predators.
The Las Baulas National Park administration is working on an informational campaign to spread awareness about natural resources, mitigation of threats and park regulations. The Leatherback Trust is collaborating with Las Baulas National Park to support this campaign through donations like the main entrance kiosk and art to promote conservation awareness.
With support from the National Park Ecotourism Program, The Leatherback Trust helped Las Baulas National Park to create a series of informative signs for placement at the Playa Grande and Playa Ventanas nesting beaches. This signage informs visitors that dogs or other pets are not allowed inside the protected area and describes Las Baulas National Park regulations. Park regulations apply year round, because solitary nesting turtles are known to use the beaches within Las Baulas National Park even outside of the designated nesting season.
From the perspective of Las Baulas National Marine Park’s Administrator, Rotney Piedra, it is important to increase the visibility of the National Park and its regulations with prominently placed signs to remind neighbors and visitors about what can and cannot be done within the park, which protects sea turtles and other animals.
“The problem is not just the dogs, it is also the willingness of people to comply with the legislation,” Piedra stressed.
For those with dogs or any other pets as friends or part of your family, it is important to respect parks and other spaces that are intended for the conservation of wildlife. Keeping pets secured within the home rather than roaming the neighborhood will help local wildlife. When taking your pet out for a walk, have a good time in places appropriate for them, but plan to leave pets at home when you visit Las Baulas National Park. If you visit another nesting beach that is not within a protected area, remain aware of your dog’s activities. Watch out for any digging and make sure your pet does not try to “play with” hatchlings or other wildlife. By working together in these ways, we can all save sea turtles.