Junquillal beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline is one of the country’s most important nesting beaches for leatherback turtles. But because the beach is not a protected area, illegal egg harvesting is a major problem.
To reduce the number of poached leatherback nests, WWF is developing alternative income sources for the local community, such as from ecotourism and the production and marketing of handicrafts. Community members are also involved in monitoring the beaches, and the construction and operation of a marine turtle hatchery, where eggs are brought in and protected until the hatchlings are released.
Junquillal beach, located in Guanacaste province, Costa Rica, was recently discovered by biologist Gabriel Francia, to be among the most important nesting sites of Pacific leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) in the country. Francia, who is now project leader, found there were up to 50 nests per year between 2004 and 2006.
However, the only relationship local residents had with the turtles was the illegal collection of eggs for sale or consumption. Rampant nest poaching meant that no leatherback hatchling reached the sea, despite regular nesting efforts year after year. Junquillal has no protected area status.
In 2005, WWF initiated a conservation project in Junquillal Beach, to improve the survival outlook for leatherbacks and other marine turtle species.
The bottom-line approach is the establishment of a relationship between sea turtle conservation and improved quality of life for coastal communities. In order to engage the community, heads of families and teachers were invited to an environmental education workshop that stimulated their curiosity and critical thinking about natural resources of the schoolyards and beaches.
The positive response to this activity led to the establishment of the environmental education programme, which has involved schools from Junquillal and other nearby beaches. The work continues to employ local, provincial or national resources to the greatest extent possible, stimulates conservation by the community, respects the community work pace, and displays creativity in adapting to emerging needs. WWF is facilitating the implementation of a Community Livelihoods Improvement Plan in Junquillal.