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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- 10 international tourism agencies that promote Costa Rica as an ecotourism destination have expressed their discontent with bill 17.383, supported by the country's president, to downgrade Las Baulas Marine National Park to a Mixed Wildlife Refuge and allow development therein. In a letter to the Legislative Assembly's Environmental Commission calling on it to reject the bill, the tour operators assured that any change in the park's status would adversely affect Costa Rica's reputation as a country that for decades has balanced both social development and environmental conservation.
"Development of the park would bring about any number of problems in the form of overcrowding, vehicles, domestic animals, excess light pollution, and increased garbage and sewage amounts. All of this would have a negative affect on the leatherback sea turtle's nesting process", said Brad Nahill, SEETurtles director and leader of the tour operator initiative. "If Costa Rica allows the park to be destroyed and developed by private interests, it would not only spell the end for the leatherbacks, but also demonstrate to the world that the country is putting on a false sense of sincerity when it boasts itself as a world leader in sustainable development", added Nahill.
"We don't understand this government's two-faced objective", said Randall Arauz from the Costa Rican organization Pretoma, "on one hand it talks about its 'Peace With Nature' program with the Tourism Minister promoting ecological travel, but at the same time it wants to destroy the most important leatherback nesting beach in the Eastern Pacific, and a species that is already critically endangered. This comes in spite of the call to protect the park from more than ten thousand Costa Ricans of all ages and backgrounds and from the most prestigious scientific organizations like for instance the IUCN's Marine Turtle Specialist Group ", concluded Arauz.
Support to protect the national park from real state development efforts has grown globally. Recently, more than 800 US citizens sent letters to Costa Rica's president warning him that destroying Playa Grande would irreversibly affect the country's reputation as an ecotourism destination. Also, the online magazine "The Voice of the Leatherback Turtles" was recently published, explaining the Baulas case using the best technical information available.
In 1991 Costa Rica accepted the responsibility of protecting the Pacific leatherback when the country declared the beaches of Grande, Ventanas, and Langosta part of Las Baulas National Park. Since then, and in spite of the National Park's declaration, foreign buyers, encouraged by Costa Rican owners, have invested in properties inside the park's limits with the intent of amassing fortunes with their real estate investment.
"This only means two things", explained Miguel Gómez from Pretoma, "either they were cheated by local business people who made them think that the National Park was a temporary thing, or they were foolish investors who didn't thoroughly research the implications of buying land already declared of public interest".