Las Baulas National Marine Park
The sand on the beach has cooled with the dark of the tropical night and the waves of the Pacific gently crash and kiss the shore with a whisper. The moon is waning and it highlights the surface of the ocean and clouds with silver. By the light of this moon a large dark form is discerned in the water. It surfaces periodically, always coming closer to shore until a sudden larger series of waves deposits the animal onto the beach. Using flippers clearly meant for flying through an aqueous environment, it struggles forward. Huffing and puffing from the exertion, it stops several meters from the waters edge and digs into the sand with its hind flippers. It is a Baula, a Leatherback Turtle, the largest and most ancient of the sea turtles and along with several others arriving on the beach, has come to Las Baulas National Marine Park in Costa Rica to lay its eggs.
Location and how to get there
Las Baulas National Marine Park is found in northwestern Costa Rica near the town of Tamarindo. The park is a two hour drive form Liberia or seven hour drive from San Jose. Las Baulas can be reached by taking the Pan-American Highway north to Liberia then taking routes 21 and 155, following signs to Tamarindo. Before you reach Tamarindo, at the town of Huacas, head west to Matapalo, Salinas and the park entrance. For those tired of driving, Liberia also has an International Airport.
Las Baulas National Marine Park is most famous for what it was created for; to protect the largest nesting site of the Leatherback Turtle in the Pacific Ocean. Most years, 800 females come to nest at Las Baulas although numbers fluctuate during El Nino years. Before the park was established, the number of nesting Leatherback turtles steadily declined due to over harvesting of the eggs and mortality of the adults at sea because of human fishing activities. Since Leatherback Turtles take around 13 years to reach adulthood, it’s hoped that the fruits of the turtle protection provided by the national park will come to bear in the form of more females coming to nest. They come to shore from October to March with the highest numbers in December and January. The park also protects important mangrove forests that act as nurseries for many fish species and the ocean itself up to 16 kilometers offshore.
Volunteering to help save a species from extinction
Leatherback Turtles are in serious danger of going extinct. One way to help save the Baula, a species that outlived the dinosaurs, is to protect their nesting grounds, eggs and hatchlings. Volunteers at Las Baulas National Marine Park do this by patrolling the 3 nesting beaches to keep people from disturbing the turtles while they nest, keeping guard over the nests, and helping the hatchlings make it to the ocean. Most volunteers also help out with scientific research by taking basic data of the turtles. Several volunteer organizations, including Earthwatch, provide the opportunity to work with Leatherback Turtles in Las Baulas National Marine Park. If you don’t want to volunteer but would still like to see the turtles, inquire at the ranger station about one of the night tours. Make sure you sign up in advance because the number of visitors entering Las Baulas is limited.
A variety of hotels are available in and around nearby Tamarindo.