Chaos in Costa Rica’s Leatherback National Park

Private development interests have presented a bill (17.383) in Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly that proposes to downgrade Leatherback Marine National Park to a national wildlife refuge. This change would allow for beach front development of privately owned lands within the protective coastal buffer zone that currently protects critically endangered nesting leatherback sea turtles.

A protest march in San Jose against the bill to downgrade the national park (photo: Ingrid Rojas)

A protest march in San Jose against the bill to downgrade the national park (photo: Ingrid Rojas)

The bill is backed by Costa Rica’s President, Oscar Arias Sanchez, who has ordered the members of his National Liberation Party to support it. By handcuffing his fellow party members to act otherwise, Arias intends to push the bill through the Environmental Commission and subsaquent plenary vote before the country’s national elections take place in February. If the initiative is successful, it would guarantee that private interests succeed in developing the last viable leatherback nesting beaches in the eastern tropical Pacific.

The nefarious bill has a number of egregious inconsistencies:

• It is illegal in Costa Rica to lower the status of a national park without scientific/technical studies that prove that the proposed restructuring will not compromise the reason why the park was originally established. In this case, Leatherback Park was established to protect sea turtle nesting habitat, and no study exists proving that this habitat will be better protected if developers are allowed to build along the beach.

• The bill exemplifies the lack of political will to comply with the binding ruling from The Constitutional Court that in 2005 determined that the State’s interests lie with the consolidation and the expropriation of corresponding properties in the park.

• Costa Rica’s National Aquifer Service has alerted that any construction inside the park would put at risk the shallow  aquifer and that the parks coastal lands should only be used for conservation purposes.

• While it has been determined that these lands are not suitable for developing, property owners continue to insist that their holdings are worth as much as $1,000 a square meter!!

• A common argument is that the Costa Rican government does not have enough money to expropriate the private properties inside the park. However, 5 million dollars was raised by international conservation non-profits to begin the expropriation process, but a lack of political will has stonewalled this endeavor and shamefully, the majority of the money donated has been given back to the original donors.

• The bill compromises the collective interest in favor of personal interests.

Playa Grande--The most important Leatherback nesting beach in the Eastern Pacific (photo: AIDA)

Playa Grande--The most important Leatherback nesting beach in the Eastern Pacific (photo: AIDA)

Costa Ricans and foreigners are encouraged to defend the park by writing personal letters to Senora Hania M. Durán at the Legislative Assembly:

In addition, please copy President Arias’ secretary, Mariangel Solera, at and the Costa Rican marine turtle conservation NGO Pretoma at

The following is a sample letter:

Costa Rica created Las Baulas National Park by Law in 1995, acknowledging
its responsibility as the depositary of the last leatherback nesting beach in the Eastern Pacific. Unfortunately, I’m aware that this Honorable Commission is reviewing bill 17.383 to amend the Law and downgrade the park to a national wildlife refuge, something that would alter critical leatherback nesting habitat.  I’m also aware of the State Attorney’s and the Constitutional Court’s rulings that mandate the Government of Costa Rica to immediately proceed with the expropriation of lands within the Park’s boundaries for their permanent protection.
I therefore urge this Commission to uphold the aforementioned Court rulings, and reject this bill.

Thank you.

2 Responses to “Chaos in Costa Rica’s Leatherback National Park”
  1. ilie says:


    thanks for the article. im trying to follow up on the bill but cant track down an update. did it pass? could someone point me in the right direction?

    thank you,

  2. Andy Bystrom says:

    The bill has not yet been sent to the environmental commission to be voted on. The rumor I hear is that it WILL be sent sometime after the February 7th presidential elections and before May when the new pres. takes office. This way the new gov’t can say, “Hey, we didn’t know anything about this bill, it happened before we got here!!”. Now more then ever, we have to be vigilant and pressure the commission to vote it down.

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