Cahuita Nesting Beach Project - Conservation Programs

Located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is Cahuita National Park. It offers lush nature - humid forests, mangroves and beautiful beaches and is a habitat for a biodiverse flora and fauna. The park was founded to protect the surrounding coral reefs, a vulnerable ecosystem which consist of 35 various corals and is home to different species, like mollusks, crustaceans, algae and many species of fish. The 12 km long coastline of the park is also an important nesting area for the critically endangered Hawksbill and Leatherback turtle and the endangered Green turtle. The area is the main nesting spot for Hawksbill turtles in the country. Even though the beach is part of a National Park, sea turtles and their nests are threatened by illegal hunting and poaching by villagers who live nearby. Besides this, tree logging and the destruction of coral reefs through sedimentation, and rising sea levels are other serious threats to turtle nests: beach erosion is causing the loss of incubated eggs if not relocated in time.

LAST monitors the beach during nesting season, collects scientific data and relocates nests at high risk into safer areas. Besides minimizing the anthropogenic threats and sea turtle mortality, the projects goal is to formulate strategies which help to identify the condition of sea turtle populations in the Caribbean of Costa Rica as well as to contribute in decision making for a more effective sea turtle conservation management in the long term. Since 2001 local research assistants patrol the beaches of Playa Blanca, Puerto Vargas and Carbón within the National Park during nesting season (March-October) from 8 pm to 4 am every night. As for today this project does not accept volunteers, it focuses only on investigation of the female turtles are tagged and scientific data is recorded (Date, hour, time, and sector of beach of nesting activity, false crawls, nests lost to predation or poaching, females returning to the ocean, numbers of eggs, nest depth, biometry of the turtle and appearance of the turtle concerning its health). All nests on this beach which are considered to be at high risk of poaching or lost to erosion or floods are relocated into a safer area of the beach. Nests left in situ are camouflaged to hide the tracks and protect the eggs against predators and poachers. After emerging of the hatchlings, a LAST research assistant exhumes the nests to attain information about hatching success and nest temperature during incubation time.

Cahuita nesting beach reports on average of about 200 Leatherback Sea Turtle nests and 75 nests of Hawksbill sea turtles.