Strategy 2: Protect Nesting Beaches and Increase Hatchling Production

In contrast to many other sea turtle populations, threats to eastern Pacific leatherbacks on nesting beaches—namely human consumption of eggs and nesting females—have been significantly reduced compared to historic trends at major nesting sites in Mexico and Costa Rica. However, egg harvest remains an issue where protection efforts are insufficient or non-existent. Enhanced protection of nesting beaches and increases in hatchling production are efforts that have delayed impacts on population trends because of delayed maturity typical of sea turtles, including leatherbacks, that means 15-30 years between hatchling and adult stages. Thus, results of increased hatchling production (i.e. “investment return”) should not be expected to be observable for at least 15 years, and still depend on survivorship of juvenile and adult life stages. This again puts the highest priority for population recovery on increasing survival of older life stages, i.e. reducing mortality from fisheries bycatch in feeding areas and migratory routes. Nonetheless, without beach protection and increased hatchling production, the reproductive cycle of leatherbacks will be incomplete and would prevent recovery. Therefore, efforts to maintain or enhance protection of nesting turtles, their eggs, and hatchlings must be supported at the same time as bycatch reduction efforts. We recommend actions to enhance or maintain monitoring on nesting beaches, reduce egg harvest, increase resilience of nesting habitats, and maintain nest conditions favorable to hatchling production.

Leatherback hatchling

Leatherback hatchling © Morrison B. Mast

2.1. Establish, increase or maintain presence of monitoring teams on beaches that currently have insufficient or non-existent monitoring and protection

We recommend that leatherback nesting sites throughout the region be evaluated for a) relative annual abundance of nesting females, number of clutches, hatching success (and beach conditions), potential hatchling production, and b) degree of monitoring and protection efforts at important nesting beaches. This assessment will allow identification of important beaches that require support for monitoring and protection.

Recommended actions:

2.1.1.      Assess current status and priorities for monitoring on secondary beaches through workshops and rapid assessments for known secondary beaches.

2.1.2.      Aerial surveys to identify undocumented nesting sites in the region and to provide a current assessment of all nesting beaches in the region.

2.1.3.      Maintain/augment monitoring teams on all index beaches and install teams on at least 8 additional secondary beaches (majority of nesting in region).

2.2. Reduce egg consumption

Recommended actions:

2.2.1.      Promote economic alternatives in local communities in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (and other countries with leatherback nesting).

2.2.2.      Increase the presence and participation of authorities on nesting beaches in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (and other countries with leatherback nesting).

2.2.3.      Adopt outreach campaigns (e.g. “Yo no como huevos de tortugas” in Nicaragua) to reduce egg and turtle consumption in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (and other countries with leatherback nesting).

2.3.    Consolidate and preserve nesting habitats

Recommended actions:

2.3.1.      Consolidate and promote greater awareness of protected areas where leatherbacks nest.

2.3.2.      Undertake or implement zoning plans for leatherback nesting areas and minimize the impact of coastal development.

2.4.    Maintain favorable environmental conditions for hatching success

Recommended actions:

2.4.1.      Relocate nests from unfavorable areas to areas that promote higher hatching success.

2.4.2.      Implement methods to maintain favorable temperatures in relocated nests.

2.4.3.      Implement adaptation and mitigation measures in response to climate change impacts.

A detailed table including these recommended actions, plus implementation sites, timeframes, costs, and possible implementers was also prepared as part of the Action Plan. Download the table here.