The number of leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) nesting at Parque Marino Las Baulas declined precipitously in the 15 years that we monitored the population (1988–1989 to 2003–2004). We estimate that the annual survival rate of adults was 0.78 (95% CI: 0.75–0.80) and that mortality rates for juveniles and subadults in the ocean appear to be double those of a stable population. The proportion of hatchlings produced from deposited eggs increased since the park was established as a result of conservation practices. Because the number of nesting females decreased, the overall production of hatchlings per season declined but was much greater than would be expected without protection efforts. There were similar numbers of hatchlings leaving the beaches of Las Baulas in 1998–2003, with 68 to 188 nesting females under the current conservation regime as there were in 1988–1989 with ca. 1500 nesting females and no park. Female leatherback turtles that nest at Las Baulas have a high level of exchange between nesting beaches; thus, protection of both Playa Grande and Playa Langosta is critical for the survival of the population. Despite current protection efforts, the population at Las Baulas is still threatened by mortality at sea and development on and behind the nesting beaches.
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Vol. 6 • No. 1