Las Baulas National Marine Park Threatened by Unsustainable Infrastructure Development
Over 200 sea turtle scientists and conservationists are adding their voices to the international call urging the President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sánchez, to save critical leatherback sea turtle nesting habitat from destruction. A letter from the concerned scientists and conservationists, who attended the 27th International Sea Turtle Symposium in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA (22-28 February, 2007), was delivered today at the President’s office. The scientists and conservationists are calling on the Costa Rican President to begin acquiring lands within the boundaries of Las Baulas National Marine Park.
Costa Rican sea turtle scientists and conservationists celebrated the international support. According to Wagner Quirós, Co-Chair of the Costa Rican Sea Turtle Conservation Network, “Uncontrolled development of infrastructure on sea turtle nesting beaches is an urgent issue to address, given the already known negative impact that these actions have on these animals and their nesting habitat”. Quirós expressed concern that development pressure in Las Baulas National Marine Park was like a time bomb “that could explode any moment, altering critical leatherback nesting habitat forever”.
Leatherback sea turtles are Vulnerable; their populations have declined over 90% during the last 20 years, and could be extinct in the Pacific within the next 15 years. Costa Rica has long recognized the need to protect the ecological integrity of sea turtle nesting beaches to enhance hatchling production. Las Baulas National Marine Park, in Guanacaste, was created by Executive Decree in 1991 and later by Law in 1995, with the purpose of protecting one of the last populations of leatherback sea turtles in the Eastern Pacific, a species classified as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
“Costa Rica has a great responsibility, as it hosts Las Baulas National Marine Park, the most important leatherback nesting beach in the Eastern Pacific”, said Didiher Chacón, of Association ANAI and WIDECAST. “Members of coastal communities have learned to make a living through ecotourism and non consumptive use of turtles, and all this could be lost only to satisfy the interests of foreign investors”.
Las Baulas National Marine Park includes a 125 meter linear strip of land above the high tide line which is to be protected from any sort of development. Given that 75 meters of this strip is in private hands, the law stipulates that the Ministry of the Environment and Energy must proceed to acquire these lands (Law of Creation Las Baulas National Park #7524 of July 10, 1995). A legal process was initiated for this purpose in December of 2004, yet due to bureaucratic processes and wrongful interpretations of the law, the government has yet to acquire these lands. As a result, development pressures, mainly by foreign investors with real estate dreams, have grown exponentially, in particular with the recent proposal to develop this strip under a self proclaimed “sustainable” zoning plan. Nonetheless, experts from the Costa Rican Sea Turtle Conservation Network have expressed their concern in the sense that developing this highly sensitive beach will severely impact its quality as prime leatherback nesting habitat.
“Current development of tourism infrastructure in the breathtaking northwestern Pacific coast of Costa Rica is out of control, and the municipal authorities have proven to lack the resources and political will to adequately enforce development regulations”, warned Randall Arauz, President of PRETOMA and Central American Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We must strictly adopt the precautionary approach and guarantee that the ecological integrity of the nesting beach is not altered, and this can only be attained by immediate expropriation”, added Arauz.
Just slightly over a year ago, the Attorney General confirmed that these lands belonged to the National Park (C444-2005, Received MINAE January 12 of 2006), and thus the Ministry of the Environment and Energy must proceed to abide by the Law and acquire the properties within its boundaries. The international community has provided about five million dollars for the process. Any further delays to proceed will further threaten the strict protection of Las Baulas National Marine Park, as well as the last remaining population of leatherbacks in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.
According to Belinda Richard, Technical Advisor of the Inter-American Convention for the Conservation and Protection of Sea Turtles, Costa Rica has signed and ratified many international treaties and conventions to protect sea turtles, and sponsored a resolution at the Inter-American Sea Turtle Convention calling for the strict protection of the remaining leatherback nesting beaches in the Eastern Pacific. She added, “We expect Costa Rica to stand up to its international standard, and continue championing initiatives to protect the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle.”
The international sea turtle conservation community has expressed this concern to the President of Costa Rica, and is calling for the government to abide by the Attorney General’s ruling and save Las Baulas National Marine Park from imminent destruction.
For more information visit http://www.seaturtle.org