They’re Shooting Each Other Over Turtle Eggs!!
I have some rather gray news to put forth. From what I’ve been able to scrounge together, not all is well in the heart of paradise—-
Carate, Costa Rica– A sea turtle egg poacher was shot in the chest by Corcovado National Park rangers and is in critical condition after he refused to stop stealing turtle eggs from Carate beach. According to the rangers, the man, a gold miner by trade, attacked them with a machete. The Environmental Ministry (MINAE) park officials claim they tried to shoot at the poacher’s feet, but when he continued his assault they were forced to aim a bit higher. This latest incident is part of a massive influx of egg poaching activity that has flooded Carate this year, with some poachers traveling from as far away as the Panamanian boarder and San Isidro to illegally dig for sea turtle eggs.
This is the first season in the last 6 years that a sea turtle conservation foundation and volunteers have not patrolled the beaches in and around Carate, located on the remote Osa Peninsula along Costa Rica’s southern Pacific Coast. The word has spread quickly along the machete telegraph and there are reports of individuals loading sacks of over 500 eggs into boats to be later sold at markets and bars.
With environmental non-profit foundations loosing large portions of their funding because of the global economic downturn, the real losers are now the unborn baby turtles that will never have the chance to scramble free of there shells and make their way to the sea.
Sea turtle egg poaching is illegal in Costa Rica except in Ostinal beach, Guanacaste where it’s legal to take eggs during the first 48 hours of an “arribada”, a massive nesting phenomenon. During arribadas, thousands of olive ridley turtles emerge from the sea at the same time. Most of these nests are trampled by subsequent waves of turtles and the logic behind taking the eggs is that it’s better for the locals to sell them rather than have them go to waste. However, the turtle egg loop hole has every illegal poacher claiming that his or her eggs are from Ostinal.
There are two types of egg poachers in Costa Rica. One is a humble, local person who uses the resource as a way to make cheap pancakes for his/her family (and I’m told they are absolutely marvelous, more light and airy than any chicken egg can offer up). The other sees the nesting turtles as money producers. This poacher may or may not be a member of the local community and may or may not be outfitted with a weapon. Many times there is a drug habit to feed.
The situation is complex. Ideally, locals should take an active role in protecting their beaches and the sea turtles that bring them tourist dollars. But this takes years of concerted community outreach and a certain level of trust between community members and conservation organizations.
The remainder of this year’s nesting season (July-December) looks bleak for the turtles. But there is hope for next year. What Carate needs is a dedicated conservation group that is willing to take on the challenge (be it logistical, social, economical, or all of the above) of running a sea turtle restoration project on the Osa Peninsula. If you would like more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.