"The Turtles Of The Golden Eggs": Protecting Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

Learn how MCAF Fellow Ariana McCarthy is working to train leaders in the protection of sea turtles.

By New England Aquarium

See caption below
Ariana Oporta McCarthy giving educational talks on sea turtles at the El Parque School, Talamanca Photo: Yendry Moya Duran, principal of the School

This post is one of a series on projects supported by the New England Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF). Through MCAF, the Aquarium supports researchers, conservationists, and grassroots organizations around the world as they work to address the most challenging problems facing the ocean.

By Ariana McCarthy

Costa Rica is a privileged country in many ways, such as the high biological diversity that surrounds us. One of our many natural riches is that five species of sea turtles nest on our beaches. These turtles are of high ecological value and indicators of the health of the oceans.

Fortunately, the conservation of natural resources is a priority for us. In the case of sea turtles, we have been leaders for a long time. The fight for their protection began in the 1950s in the northern Caribbean, with researcher Archie Carr, and many other renowned researchers have appeared since then. In the southern Caribbean, the first turtle conservation projects began in the 1980s, specifically on Gandoca Beach, where our community-based NGO called COASTS (Costa Rican Alliance for Sea Turtle Conservation and Science) is currently leading sea turtle conservation.

We would like to thank the renowned researchers who have paved the way for sea turtle conservation, thereby expanding our perspectives on the sustainable use of this wonderful resource and inspiring our generations to be turtle protectors. Thanks to them, we are currently local leaders who have our vision set on generating more and more local skills and on training generations of empowered leaders to be leading stakeholders in conservation.

As a society, it has taken decades to learn to value our natural resources. In the case of sea turtles, we have changed with the generations from exploitation and consumption to protection. We understand that turtles add value to our beaches, adding to their stunning beauty a resource of major interest for ecotourism development, with activities such as observation of the nesting process and observation of newborns, providing work to local researchers, tourist guides, and service providers in general. This has brought important economic and social development, not only locally but also regionally. Therefore, it is more lucrative to conserve turtles than to consume them. By consuming them, we would be destroying a resource that has boosted the economic development of many towns like Gandoca.

To catalyze this necessary change in awareness in society, our NGO, thanks to the support of the Marine Conservation Action Fund, has led an extensive educational program in the southern Caribbean area of Costa Rica, where we want new generations to know the value of sea turtles and be future conservation leaders. We provided educational talks in 18 schools in the area to more than 800 children. Ten of the children were selected to take their sixth-grade group on an educational tour to the nesting beach, where more than 250 children enjoyed the experience of seeing newborn turtles, collaborating with a beach clean-up and the planting of mangroves, taking part in educational games, and making art based on sea turtles.

Girls from the Gandoca community with their art
Girls from the Gandoca community with their art Photo: Ariana Oporta McCarthy

With this educational process, we hope to help generate this change in mindset, showing our younger generations how valuable sea turtles are both for ecosystems and for communities. We want to see the exploitation of sea turtles become a thing of the past, providing transformative knowledge and field experiences. We hope that the seeds we are sowing today, from the fruits of generations of local leaders, will be agents of change and that they will take action in the conservation of our “golden egg turtles.”

Samantha Rodríguez and Camila Rodríguez, observing turtles rescued during an exhumation and ready to be released on Gandoca beach
Samantha Rodríguez and Camila Rodríguez, observing turtles rescued during an exhumation and ready to be released on Gandoca beach Photo: Ariana Oporta McCarthy

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