How Much Are You Willing to Pay for a Sea Turtle?
Sea Turtles have to face many problems today including pollution from run offs, oil spills, water contamination, etc. They also suffer from endangerment and possible extinction. The latest issue turtles are facing is death before even hatching due to poachers stealing their eggs for profit in Costa Rica.
Moin Beach in Costa Rica is the rich nesting ground for the prehistoric reptiles Dermochelys coriacea, before this land was inhabited by humans these turtles were using this land as a nesting area. This rare species of turtle is the largest in the world and the fourth largest reptile, coming in at about 2,000 pounds. So far this is the only species left of the Dermochelys genus and their numbers are significantly dwindling. Per mating season which runs from March to July, each turtle can lay about 100 eggs. These precious eggs are being threatened by poachers who steal them and sell them in markets for profit, as well as being the target of drug lords from the local cartels.
In Costa Rica, these rare eggs are considered a luxury, specifically an aphrodisiac. Poachers sell these eggs for around $1 each, which can turn out to be quite a profit if there are about 100 eggs per nest. The downside of this business? Its highly illegal. Poaching eggs from endangered species can result in consequences with the law, which is why many conservation biologists are patrolling the beach protecting the nests. The downside to biologists protecting the eggs? The narco crime lords are having biologists killed so they can continue their prohibited business.
A couple years ago, conservation biologist and researcher Jairo Mora Sandoval was patrolling Moin Beach with fellow conservationists and was kidnapped and brutally murdered then left on the beach the next morning to be found. Since then there has been a huge international outcry and now controversy surrounding poaching and protecting the eggs and also the involvement of the cartels. Many complaints are focused around the fact before the murder, law enforcement was not much help in dealing with warding off poachers from the beach. Since the murder, law enforcement has stepped up and began to search people for eggs and weapons when found at the beach, however is this enough? Friend of Sandoval and fellow environmentalist Vanessa Lizano said she was among the first to patrol the beach and save turtle eggs and she recounts times where she would be attacked by poachers and chased by them with machetes and guns.
“Turlte eggs and drug dealing go hand in hand,” she said. “Once a month there was a shooting, and for me it was normal.”
Lizano would bring Sandoval along for extra protection during patrol, and both knew what kind of trouble they could be getting into due to the heavy influence of drug gangs and poachers. However against the odds, they managed to save many eggs and bring them to a local hatchery where the turtles can hatch safely and return to the beach. While there is speculation that Sandoval was killed because he didn’t respect the rule that whoever found the nest first gets the eggs, there is no reason that law enforcement shouldn’t have stepped in sooner.
“I think it’s not fair to take the life of someone so young. So passionate,” Lizano said. “I blame the government. I blame the lack of police force helping us. I blame myself.”
After his murder, seven men who were connected to the local gangs were arrested. After being tried they were acquitted due to the mishandling of evidence. This ruling led to even more public outrage from people and environmentalists from around the world. Many are demanding for the government to step in and provide more help for the conservationists and for the law enforcement to deal with the gangs, and also for a re trail of those arrested. In August, the Costa Rican government announced there would be a re trial, however no date has been announced yet, and the men claim their innocence to any involvement in the murder.
For the time being, organizations like Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary are advocating to make the sale and consumption of these turtle eggs illegal in Costa Rica, which would get rid of the market for the eggs and in the end provide further protection for the turtles. Meanwhile, the leatherback turtles are continuing to use Moin Beach as one of their main nesting areas, and the war on poaching and drugs is still running rampant. Hopefully the Costa Rican government will pass some laws regarding protecting endangered species and also regarding drugs and organized crime.
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