The Stuggle of the Leatherback Turtle
Tamarindo is a nearby town, just a few miles south of Playa Grande, which used to be a popular surfing spot and a fabulous nesting place for the leatherback turtles. Now, even though the surfers are still there, all the turtles have left. What happened? It’s a pretty simple answer, but the process for stopping it from happening again is riddled with politics, miscommunication, lies and people who just don’t care. That’s what Dr. Frank Paladino, from Purdue University, is battling and why he created this project twenty years ago.
Development: we, as humans, often measure progress with bigger and more buildings and making money. That’s essentially what doomed the nesting population in Tamarindo. At night, the lights of all the big buildings from Tamarindo illuminate the sky, whereas the beaches just north in Playa Grande are completely black.
White lights frighten off and disorient the female turtles who wish to nest and they don’t come onto the beach. In addition, hatchlings head towards the light of the town as they think it is the moon reflecting off the water, which is where they want to be immediately after emerging from their nest.
Most of the beach no longer exists in Tamarindo. Beachfront development chopped away the vegetation, which was holding the sand in place. Once the vegetation was gone, the sand just washed away, and so went the beach. Now all that is left is rock with a little bit of sand, which makes it impossible for the females to dig into, even if they did want to come to the beach.
Without Dr. Paladino’s work, the same thing could be happening in Playa Grande. The Leatherback Trust, started by Dr. Paladino, worked with the Costa Rican government to create this National Park that has preserved a nesting spot for the leatherbacks. Much negotiation and discussion with the poachers helped turn them into tour guides so they didn’t lose a way of making a living. The Leatherback Trust continuously endeavors to educate the locals and the national government about the importance of keeping the beach intact. Any houses that do exists along the beach are encouraged to use red exterior lights.
Dr. Paladino’s project is one the longest running Earthwatch projects. While his work in known around the world, the battle is slowly being lost. There were over 100,000 different nests on the beaches of Playa Grande only twenty years ago. Now there are fewer than 300. Awareness is a huge step to helping these creatures not go the way of their former contemporaries, the dinosaurs.