Protected areas in Costa Rica, in addition to serving as a shelter for populations of sea turtles that are increasingly threatened, are a focus of attraction for tourists interested in observing the nesting of these animals.
However, the number of spectators can interfere in the process and behavior of the reptiles, according to specialists who developed a methodology to estimate the responsible observation area during nesting, taking the Camaronal National Wildlife Refuge, located in Guanacaste as a starting point.
“Our research suggests that a precautionary number of tourists should be maintained observing the nesting process so as not to increase the times of each phase and not to affect the population dynamics of sea turtles. The proposed area to observe sea turtles at the Camaronal site was 51.4 m2 and the observation area for a sea turtle corresponds to an average circle of 500 m2 in tourist groups of a maximum of 10 people. Nesting behavior would not be significantly altered as long as the suggested group size is respected”, indicated Luis Diego Alfaro, researcher at the International Institute for Conservation and Management of Wildlife.
According to the research, the nesting phases in sea turtles are key to maintaining the conservation of the species as they correspond to the process of production of new individuals.
On a 3-kilometer-long beach, three species of sea turtles that visit the Pacific coast of Costa Rica nest: the leatherback and the Pacific green or black. However, the olive ridley turtle is the most abundant and on which the greatest conservation efforts are concentrated at the site.
Guaranteeing the success of hatching
“Each phase in the nesting fulfills an objective to guarantee the success of hatching of the litter, for example, the time dedicated to the construction of the nest allows to give depth to it and generate several layers of eggs, of which those that occupy the layers lower ones are more likely to hatch because they maintain adequate temperature and humidity and are less susceptible to predation and extraction,” the study cites.
The increase in their accidental capture during fishing, erosion of the beaches where they nest, illegal hunting for the transfer of their meat and shells, and theft of their eggs, are the main threats that affect sea turtles today.
The research results can be replicated and adapted in other protected areas in Costa Rica, through the management plan for protected wild areas and the specific tourism plan. Meanwhile, the turtle observation area could be monitored through the guide to the effectiveness of the management of protected wild areas that aims to conserve this species.