Exploitation of the green
turtles that nested near the village had been a mainstay of the Tortuguero economy, supplemented at times by logging and the hunting of large cats for pelts. However, increasing protection for the land and marine areas around Tortuguero meant that the area had to develop an emphasis on non-consumptive use of its natural resources.
Conserving sea turtles benefit people
Fortunately, the nesting beach that once provided turtles as an easy harvest for a quick profit, also provided the village with a ready made tourist draw card. With strong community supported conservation measures in place, turtle and tourist numbers have been climbing in tandem. Nesting turtle numbers (all species now listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered), increased 417 per cent between 1971 and 2003, while visitor numbers have grown from 226 in 1980 to 80,319 in 2004.
Gross revenue of sea turtle tourism in Tortuguero in 2002 alone was estimated at US$6,714,483 from board, lodging, and transportation services, as well as souvenir sales, national park and guided tour fees (Troëng & Drews 2004).
Caribbean Conservation Corporation's (CCC) role
Much of the benefit from the increased nature tourism is captured within the community, which plays a significant role in conservation planning and decisionmaking together with government bodies and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), the principal Non Governmental Organisation in the area. The population increased more than threefold since 1985 as people arrived attracted by the economic opportunities.
The growth of the human population in Tortuguero has contributed to an improvement in the government services available to Tortuguero residents. A secondary school opened in 1999 and a health service previously open only two days a month in 1990, is now open two days a week. In 1990, there was no garbage collection, public water or sewage system available.
Initiatives and Results
A public water system is now available in Tortuguero and a plant for solid waste treatment has now been constructed. In addition, tourism income has supported the construction of a playground, housing for the teachers, a police station, a sports court, a kindergarten, a daycare center, as well as pipes for the public water system and provided funds to repair and maintain the school and high school buildings.
Using Costa Rica's quite sophisticated development indicators - which add a Social Development Index, a Social Lag Index and a Basic Needs Not Satisfied Index to the more common Human Development Index - Tortuguero is outperforming a similar coastal town where turtle eggs are still harvested, as well as a coastal town where turtles are not utilised in any way.
According to Sebastian Troëng, Scientific Director of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, "It is very clear that of the two realistic development options available to Tortuguero - natural resource extraction or species conservation/tourism - the latter has provided more ample benefits than the first could have done, both to the endangered species and to the local human population."
CCC, a WWF partner, focuses on sea turtle research and monitoring in Tortuguero and has been instrumental in actively supporting local development and management initiatives.