Por: Andrés Benavente
That viral e-mail (whose goal is to be forwarded to masses,
to obtain addresses of active email accounts), is very convincing using only a couple of
incriminating phrases: With the subject,“Shame in Costa Rica” it further stresses the culpability with the
phrase: “And then they say that the
turtles are disappearing due to climate change”.
It provides no further information. Only a few pictures.
Every time it is forwarded and set loose
over the Internet we receive letters from readers and friends around the world
asking for an explanation for such aberration. They are surprised when we tell them that there is no aberration at all
and explain that the creator of the e-mail either lacked documentation or had a
surplus of bad intention.
So we decided to complete the email
creator’s work and explain the context in which these photos were taken. Along the way we will discover that what
appears to be an act of vandalism is in reality a sustainability management
plan praised by scientists around the world.
Let’s start by providing what was missing
in the e-mail: FACTS.
- Each year and throughout the year,
millions of Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys
olivacea) arrive to lay their eggs
at Ostional Beach, sometimes in waves of tens of thousands in a single
day. Source: PRETOMA (Restoration of Marine
- During these large arrivals, the
crowds are so large, that 1 out of every 4 nests ends up being
damaged by the subsequent turtle trying to excavate their own incubator within
hours or days of the first turtle’s egg deposit. As a result, the eggs of the turtles that
arrived first usually do not reach the hatching stage and end up sunk, crushed,
destroyed or exposed on the sand. Source: University of Costa Rica (UCR) Biology School.
- Each female in this species lays some
100 eggs once a year, on the same beach where she was born. It’s estimated that in Ostional Beach alone,
about 200 million eggs are laid annually. Source: UCR
- The pictures in the email are in fact
part of a larger management plan that has ample legal and scientific
support. This plan allows for the
gathering of these eggs during the first 36 hours of the large arrivals. That is, what is being extracted in those
pictures are the fist-laid eggs which, if not harvested, would end destroyed by
other turtles. Source: UCR
- Only townspeople accredited by the
Ostional Integrated Development Association (ADIO) are permitted to collect
eggs within controlled quotas.
Source: Executive Decree No. 28203 Minaet-Mag of 1990.
- Police officers, a local vigilance
committee and inspectors from MAG and MINAET oversee the process. Source: Executive Decree No. 28203 Minaet-Mag of
- In exchange for this controlled
sustainable harvesting, the town of Ostional protects the beach year round
against the theft of “healthy” nests and also protects the births and the trek
of the newly born turtles to the ocean Source: UCR
- Both the Ostional Wild Life Refuge and
the controlled harvesting of the eggs are backed and regulated by several laws
such as the Wild Fauna Conservation Law of 1983, Executive Decree 16531 of
1985, Executive Decree 28203 of 1990, the Wild Life Conservation Law of 1992,
Executive Decree 22551 of 1993, the Inter American Convention for the
Protection and Conservation of Marine Turtles of 1999, and the Protection,
Conservation and Recovery of the Marine Turtle Population Law of 2002.
Although the consumption of turtle eggs
was part of the diet of the coastal communities of Central America since
Pre-Columbian times, in 2002 their sale and consumption was prohibited in the
entire region, punishing the commercialization of the eggs with large fines and
In Costa Rica the exception are the eggs
harvested under the Ostional management plan. This is the only community in the entire country that is authorized to
extract a definite amount for their commercialization exclusively within Costa
Rica. That is, only eggs in ADIO sealed bags
are legal. Any other consumption or
commercialization is illegal and punished.
The Lora and 3 more. Three other species of marine turtles also come to
nest at Playa Ostional: Carey (Eritmochelys imbricata), Green (Chelonia agassizzi) and the giant Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea). However the only species that comes in waves of big
arrivals is the Lora, the smallest of the marine turtles.
Though the volunteers’ work also benefits
these other species, they are completely protected and extraction of even one of
their eggs is prohibited.
The Biology School of Costa Rica, who
developed the current plan of sustainable exploitation and community work, has
been monitoring the process since 1970. Following years of study, they have confirmed the functionality of the
model and the diverse benefits that the plan provides to the Chelonianpopulation.
Most scientists agree that by putting in
the market this controlled offer, poaching is discouraged in other areas and
that it prevents the immersion of an organized black market. Some environmentalists, though, fear that the
opposite result could also occur and this may simply be opening a door for the
demand and sale of other eggs of illegal origin.
The reality is that this formula was
adopted as a balance between the conservation of the turtles and the survival
of a community that for decades has strongly depended on this resource. The alliance has been consolidated and both goals
were attained, making the town a great ally of the turtles and the turtles a
great ally of the town.
The community of Ostional, unjustly
denounced in the email is actually a community that is very educated and
committed to the conservation of a resource that is beneficial to them and that
they want to protect.
The UCR estimates that the work of the
local volunteers help to insure that 10 times as many young turtles are born
and reach the ocean than the amount of eggs extracted. This is all thanks to
the beach cleanings, the nocturnal vigilance against poaching and the work of
family squadrons that keep predators away from the newborn turtles on road to
Dr. Gustavo Gutierrez of the Biology
School of the UCR reveals the very impressing fact that this model of
protection given by the community saves the lives of 25,000 to 50,000 baby
turtles each day.
learn more about this plan, we recommend watching this 8 minutes documentary
about the turtles at Ostional:
If you are
interested in becoming a volunteer for this conservation project, visit: OstionalVolunteer.com
A rough road to the
Nature made it
difficult for the newborn turtles: The high
tides recede ruining all the nests within their reach (usually belonging to
the inexperienced). Other turtles while excavating their own will also
destroy more nests. Larvae colonies will also feast on some of the
nests. Dogs, Coatis and other quadrupeds will sniff,
unearth and eat many more. And a few bipedswill put some eggs in the frying pan….
When they are born
and leave the nest, some of the hatchlings will be met by sand that is way
too hot and a sun that is too intense for the newborns. In summer, many will not make it across that
dangerous and burning 20 meters desert that separates them from the sea. To top it all off, they will meet birds
and crabs along the way that will eat many.
In spite of the
difficult outlook, this does not appear to be too serious a problem for
turtles. Thus has their world functioned during millions of years and yet, the
marine turtles are still here. Nature made it tough for them but it also made
the turtles strong and tenacious.
It is for this
reason that, despite all, hundreds of thousands return year after year to nest
at the same place where they first saw the light of day:
A beach that we call Ostional and they call…home.