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WWF and Junquillal

WWF Central America works hard to save the critically endangered Pacific leatherback turtle in Junquillal Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. This community-based conservation project concentrates on the social abatement of egg poaching and mitigation of climate change impacts to the nesting site.

"The ultimate aim is that the community values the turtles more alive than dead and that it benefits from its own conservation measures," said Carlos Drews, coordinator of the WWF Marine and Species Program for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Junquillal beach in the Costa Rican Pacific region was recently discovered to be one of the most important nesting sites of leatherbacks in the country. However, Junquillal Beach is not part of the protected areas system of Costa Rica. Consequently, the lack of patrols by government authorities has led to rampant levels of illegal egg harvesting, which comprised up to 75% of all leatherback nests on that beach before the start of the project in 2005. Through community involvement in protection efforts, educational outreach to former and potential egg poachers, and unorthodox conservation activities, poaching has been reduced to close to zero. More than 20,000 hatchlings of three marine turtle species have meanwhile crawled to the sea at this site.

WWF aims now to ensure the long-term protection of this beach and its marine turtles by strengthening the capacity of the community to run the conservation program, consolidating the non-consumptive values of marine turtles (e.g. as tourist attractions and legacy for the next generation) to prevent a resurgence of poaching, linking marine turtle conservation to livelihood improvement, and mitigating the impacts of climate change on nesting conditions. A group of community youngsters, the “Baula Boys”, are engaged in the nightly monitoring of the beach, the operation of a sea turtle hatchery, where high-risk eggs are brought in to be protected until the release of the baby turtles, and in the outreach with lessons learnt to neighbouring communities.

Adaptation to climate change in Junquillal:
  1. Development and implementation of a temperature monitoring protocol. Electronic data loggers have been buried in the sand at strategic points to determine the range of incubation temperatures along the 6 km stretch of beach. One finding is that the shade of coastal vegetation on exposed beach areas reduces incubation temperature by 2-3 oC. The team is finalizing a temperature-monitoring manual, tailored to the needs of climate change adaptation, for wide distribution to other marine turtle conservation projects.
  2. Nest relocation and restoration of coastal vegetation to cool down nesting conditions, securing successful development and balanced sex ratios. The goal is that at least 25% of nests produce hatchlings of both sexes under otherwise lethal conditions. The areas for reforestation along the beach and the suitable native species have been identified. A tree nursery will be established and some 1,500 tree saplings planted by community members and visitors of all ages at the onset of the next rainy season, in April 2009. The team will quantify the tons of CO2 captured by the reforestation scheme to illustrate a community contribution to the mitigation of greenhouse gases. The operation of the egg hatchery for high-risk nests, includes the control of temperature through shading and irrigation and is currently maximizing hatching success to at least 75%.
  3. Design and implementation of setback policies into coastal development plans of the province, to allow nesting beaches to shift backwards as sea level rises. This work will begin with the establishment of a high-resolution topographic profile of the coast in Junquillal, to illustrate areas flooded under various sea level rise scenarios. The flooding simulation will be socialized with the community, developers and representatives from the provincial government for the joint design of setback policies that maintain specific coastal stretches free of buildings, roads and other infrastructure.
  4. Adaptation to climate change integrated into community livelihood improvement plan through a participatory process. Over the last two years, the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and other partners have systematized the history of Junquillal and its social and economic profile, including an analysis of local identity as influenced by marine turtle conservation. WWF and UCR are facilitating the participatory preparation of the community livelihood improvement plan, which is to include adaptation thinking as an integral component of water management, land tenure and development, tourism and agriculture, among other aspects.
For more information you can visit the WWF Centralemerica website