Workshop to prioritize monitoring work on Costa Rica’s leatherback beaches

Costa Rica’s Las Baulas National Park is known as perhaps the single most important remaining site for leatherbacks nesting in the East Pacific Ocean, and has been widely believed to host nearly all leatherback nesting in Costa Rica.

But when we began working on the East Pacific Leatherback Action Plan, we were surprised to learn that perhaps as much as 30% of leatherback nesting in Costa Rica in the year 2011 had occurred on beaches outside of the National Park. This finding—coupled with the knowledge that secondary beaches in Mexico host at least half of total leatherback abundance in that country—motivated us to include assessments and monitoring on secondary beaches in the Action Plan.

In March 2013, 15 representatives (some in absentia) of nearly a dozen organizations participated in a workshop to compile information about leatherback nesting along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and to discuss national priorities for increasing hatchling production.

Participants in workshop on leatherback beaches in Costa Rica

Participants in workshop on leatherback beaches in Costa Rica, held on March 19-20, 2013, in Las Baulas National Park, Guanacaste Province.

Objectives of the meeting were to:

1) Compile information about leatherback nesting on the Pacific Costa Rica coast;

2) Identify logistical needs to support monitoring and protection efforts on nesting beaches;

3) Develop short-term and long-term priorities for strengthening and standardizing the monitoring, protection, and communication of activities directed toward increasing leatherback hatchling production in Costa Rica.

For the first time, a map of leatherback nesting abundance on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica was assembled based on information provided by workshop participants as well as other colleagues who were unable to attend in person but sent their projects’s information. This exercise highlighted several beaches with consistent leatherback nesting each year, as well as gaps in reported information that require follow-up to figure out whether monitoring projects exist on those beaches. Overall, the resulting map confirmed that 20-30% of leatherback nesting in Costa Rica occurs on beaches outside of Las Baulas National Park.

Further, the group arrived at a set of priority actions under two categories: 1) increasing nest protection and hatchling production on nesting beaches, and 2) enhancing national coordination and evaluation of projects. Since the workshop, colleagues have been developing a joint proposal to seek support to achieve these priorities. The complete summary of the meeting and its results can be downloaded here.

These positive steps forward will help to strengthen national efforts to safeguard leatherback nesting habitats in Costa Rica, which is a key country in regional efforts to reverse the decline of leatherbacks in the Eastern Pacific.