Tourism, population increases, pollution caused by plague killers and poaching are jeopardizing the Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica, the main spawning ground for the Caribbean green turtle.
Tight protection measures have failed to preserve this marine species that often reaches up to 1.40 meters long and whose spawning season kicked off this week in Tortuguero Beach, some 200 kilometers northeast of San Jose, authorities informed.
Tortuguero Beach, with some 35 kilometers long, is lodged in the National Park named after it and founded back in the 1970's in an effort to provide green turtles with a safe haven. Before the park´s creation, a considerable chunk of the surrounding population used to rely exclusively on turtle eggs and meat.
The park comprises 50,000 hectares of marine surface and 26,000 acres of land flooded by canals and natural lagoons in a highly humid tropical region where a huge wildlife diversity lures nearly 40,000 tourists every year.
Green turtles are by far one of the top tourist attractions there. Hundreds of travelers saunter along the beach in the middle of the pitch-dark tropical nights, led by guides that have been trained in the turtle protection techniques, to steal a look at their spawning grounds.
Several hotels have sprung up right outside the park, hemmed in by abundant vegetation, to lodge tourists who have turned out to be the number-one job source and alternative for a local population that used to depend on turtle hunting in the past.
Costa Rica is one of the few countries that has protected the green turtle for over 20 years. Until last December, anyone caught trading eggs or meat of this endangered species used to be ticketed with a $50 fine.
A new law that went into force in late 2002 made sanctions even tougher. The fine has now been replaced by a sentence of up to two years in jail.