Turtles, Ticos, and Tourists: Protected Areas and Marine Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica





Conservation, Costa Rica, ecotourism, marine protected areas, marine turtles, park management


It has been 40 years since Costa Rican ecologist Gerardo Budowski first proposed a potential symbiotic relationship between tourism and environmental conservation. Given the attention that marine turtles enjoy from both conservationists and tourists, as well as the pressures that endanger and threatened them, their predicament brings sharp-relief examples to Budowski’s proposal of conflict, co-existence, or symbiosis between tourism and conservation. Although marine ecosystems are among the most productive on the planet, they are also some of the most threatened. While limited-take regimes have become the most common management strategy for marine protected areas, conservation success depends on the history of local resource use, the presence and nature resource management institutions, and an understanding of competing resource use. As in terrestrial contexts, this means providing sustained benefits for communities dependent on marine ecosystems. Carefully managed marine turtle tourism can be a means of providing such benefits. As a contribution to a special issue of JPRA focused on nature tourism in Latin America, this paper shares insights obtained during the stakeholder consultation process leading to the articulation of three marine protected area management plans in Costa Rica where marine turtle nesting and associated tourism activities occur. We seek to provide pragmatic answers to questions about the most effective way for park management to coordinate with local communities to ensure that tourism contributes to extending the extinction horizon for endangered sea turtle species within each protected area. The descriptive case studies presented here make clear the ongoing lack of systematic data about visitor numbers, activities, and impacts in Costa Rican MPAs and nearby communities. Yet the inclusion of stakeholder consultation in the parks’ strategic planning processes demonstrates movement in the needed direction. Coupled with the new forms of social organization around sea turtle conservation and the associated tourism activities, two of the three cases presented here provide compelling evidence of marine turtle tourism extending the extinction horizon of endangered marine turtle species, confirming that Budowski's hope for symbiosis between tourism and conservation is alive and well.Subscribe to JPRA

Author Biography

Carter A. Hunt, Penn State University

Carter A. HuntAssistant ProfessorRecreation, Park, and Tourism ManagementCourtesy Appointment in AnthropologyFaculty-in-Charge, Sustainability Leadership Minor College of Health and Human DevelopmentThe Pennsylvania State University