By Freddy Pacheco
It should be remembered that just over a decade ago it was estimated that the population of the Pacific Ocean was around 100,000 leatherbacks; today there are not even 2,500! More than 1,500 per season arrived at the Park's beaches; in the nesting season just ended only 58 arrived.
Regarding what happens around the leatherbacks, some informative notes:
1- The “public reactions”, pages in La Nación for about 6 million colones in paid fields, have their origin in The Leatherback Trust (of Spotila, Boza, Paladino) who has expressed themselves behind the shadows using organizations committed to that entity.
2- Only due to lack of information it can be said that beyond the nesting habitat and the San Francisco mangrove, there is a “Tropical Dry Forest” in the area near the Las Baulas National Marine Park that must be conserved. In addition to the houses and two small hotels built before the creation of the Park 17 years ago, there is nothing (except for a small part of a hill) along the entire land border of the Park that even resembles that nor to any other type of forest.
3- In an article published in 2000 in the journal Nature (Vol. 405, p. 529-530) the authors (Spotila, Paladino, Reina, Steyermark and Plotkin) say the following: “If the protection of the beach and the nursery continues, the fall to numbers below 50 animals could be postponed for five years. The recovery of this population CANNOT be achieved by increasing nursery production - EVEN with full beach protection, any population that suffers these adult mortality rates cannot survive for more than a few years ”.
So, according to the same gentlemen of The Leatherback Trust, if the slaughter caused by fishermen on the high seas (scorned by those who insist on expanding the Park) does not stop, the protection of the beaches and the activities in the nursery. It should be remembered that just over a decade ago it was estimated that the population of the Pacific Ocean was around 100,000 leatherbacks; today there are not even 2,500! More than 1,500 per season arrived at the Park's beaches; in the nesting season just ended, only 58 arrived. The explanation is given by the cited authors: "Mortality in adults is what best explains the decline in the population." Mortality that is obviously not caused by anyone in Playa Grande. Furthermore, if it is estimated that out of 1,000 newborns, one becomes an adult, how many adults will there be from the 800 born this year?
4- The wrong protection policy carried out in Costa Rica and other countries, such as Mexico for example, is thus demonstrated, where leatherbacks stopped arriving at some of its protected beaches (because they are killing them by the thousands in the waters of Chile, Peru , USA). For this reason, trying to involve the Government of Costa Rica in the forced purchase of neighboring lots 50m from the Park (at a cost of more than $ 250 million) is nonsense. And especially when The Leatherback Trust has not guaranteed even $ 5 million for these expropriations or agrees to commit to get the money that would be needed to pay the differences in costs that would be generated after the legal litigation. But, based on the information in point 3, would this investment be justified?
5- Regarding the number of visitors to Playa Grande during the nights in spawning season, we have defended the principle of limiting visitation to a minimum. Position contrary to that of The Leatherback Trust (or Baulas Trust) for whom, as expressed by Mr. Mario Boza in a note to the Legislative Assembly, it would be promoted to triple the entry of tourists to about 60,000 (as a means of increasing the economic income of the Park) .
For this reason, the Regulation approved by the Municipality of Santa Cruz (not by anyone at UNA!) Promotes a very low-density development that does not affect leatherbacks, both adult and newborn. They do not want to affect their nesting habitat and the approved measures guarantee it! 15m retreat without constructions, plant barriers, maximum height of 9m of constructions up to 50m measured from the beach limit, control of lights and noise, 60% of the lots as green area, no more than 20 rooms per hectare, lots greater than 1,200 m2, sewage control, etc., elements that together, according to the Municipality, will complement the protection received by the few leatherbacks that, after defeating the fishing traps, still manage to reach the beach.
6- As for the house bought by The Leatherback Trust, located in front of the beach, and for which they obtained a patent for a “Cabin” in the Municipality, IT IS NOT SUBJECT OF EXPROPRIATION (all neighboring houses are!) Thanks to a Agreement signed with the former minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez (today regional chief of Conservation International, which in turn finances activities of The Leatherback Trust). UNA officials, who have stayed there, can tell you what this “Laboratory” with a swimming pool is all about.
The question therefore arises as to why it is considered expropriating - supposedly to demolish - neighboring properties, while exempting that particular property.
7- As for the advice provided by the UNA, in response to the procedures of the Municipality of Santa Cruz before the Rectory, there is nothing strange or special about it. It was an academic-technical work in which we worked officials of the Legal Department, the School of Topography, Cadastre and Geodesy and this server of the School of Biological Sciences, in addition to a distinguished group of Topography students who, with great efficiency and quality, they prepared the topographic survey of the area covered by the municipal Zoning Regulation. It does NOT bear the name of the UNA (it does not have to bear it) it is the responsibility of the local government and the consultancy had, at the time, not only the support of the rectory, but also the UNIVERSITY COUNCIL, in agreement communicated to the Legislative Assembly, determined, among others, the following:
“This joint project is directed towards the establishment of a mandatory plan to regulate land use in lands adjacent to the public (state) zone of the National Park. Project that, by having the consent of the land owners, would avoid making million-dollar expenditures, either to incorporate the land into a national park or a mixed wildlife refuge, and would at the same time allow to reaffirm the conservationist nature of those areas that eventually they could affect the leatherback turtles that still come to spawn on our beaches. Thus, thanks to the control of local government, the protection of the species would be guaranteed and the application of the concept of sustainable development would be made easier in an area that needs productive options and sources of work. " (University Council. July 22, 2004).
8- Finally (for now) the academic advice provided is part of the exercise of academic freedom and university autonomy, not only enshrined in the Organic Statute of the UNA, but also essential principles of the work of a worthy University that, like all university students, we are ready to defend, "tooth and nail", against any attempt to restrain them. Just imagine, friends, what would happen at UNA if all academic works like this or similar ones had to have the endorsement of the rectory or the University Council. We could express our divergence of criteria, but never disavow them as quasi-apocryphal for not being in the "bibles" of the academic hierarchy of a university. And this, even if a female deputy indicates to a rector to "demonstrate" regarding a municipal agreement, since it must not be forgotten that a legislator is only one part of a collegiate body that, in a similar action, is overflowing its legal scope of action. And university autonomy? Who is responsible for defending it in an exemplary fashion?
April 12, 2007
Note: Regarding the “Great Leatherback Race” organized by The Leatherback Trust and Conservation International - with the support provided by the Vice Minister of Minae through a letter written in English and addressed to Drs Spotila and Paladino - we ratify our opposition to use, for strictly commercial purposes, individuals of this endangered species. The prestige of Costa Rica, as a State committed to the conservation of nature, has been eroded by this regrettable action. Without having done anything to deserve such cruel punishment, the eleven leatherbacks were condemned to live with an uncomfortable transmitter on their soft backs, for the world to pay attention to them. What do i tell!
* Freddy Pacheco, Ph.D.
Heredia. Costa Rica