The small coastal town of San Miguel, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, has adjusted its public lighting to accommodate the hundreds of sea turtles that nest on its beach each year.
During the 2005 nesting season, from July-December, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) responded to the request of the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA) and concerned area residents by installing shields on San Miguel’s public street lamps to veer light away from the beach.
ICE completed the installation on Nov. 23, 2005, on 22 lamps along San Miguel’s main street, parallel to the beach, that will remain permanently shielded, according to Alexander Gaos, PRETOMA nesting beach project coordinator.
Two weeks later, on Dec. 7, 2005, a leatherback turtle arrived at the beach to nest.
According to the statement, members of the San Miguel community support the initiative.
“The town is a bit darker, but it’s just a matter of getting accustomed, I remember when there wasn’t any light at all,” said San Miguel resident Dominga Chávez. “We have to try to live in harmony with nature. We can’t invade and change everything; we have to remember that we are not the only inhabitants on this planet.”
Adult sea turtles avoid nesting in illuminated areas, and such areas also disorient hatchlings that emerge at night by attracting them to the light rather than the beach.
When they head inland, the hatchlings become more vulnerable to death by overexertion, dehydration and expose themselves to getting run over by vehicles, a statement from PRETOMA said.
The Pacific leatherback turtle population, considered the most endangered species of marine turtles in the world, has dropped by 95% in the past 20 years, according to PRETOMA.