magazine and travel guide
magazine and travel guide
Visit our latest issue on virtual paper
…or see previous issues in our virtual kiosk

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 Turtles Program).



- 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 1990.


- 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 even imprisonment..

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 the sea.

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.


To 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:


A rough road to the sea.

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.



Visit our latest issue on virtual paper
…or see previous issues in our virtual kiosk
utopia magazine and travel guide

What else would you like to see in Utopia Magazine? 

Things to do in Costa Rica

Golf in Guanacaste 

Tico Glossary Catalinas island 

Barra Honda Caves

Rincón de la Vieja

Diving in Guanacaste


Marina Papagayo Medical tourism

What does Pura Vida means? 

MAPS Ecology   Culture   

Hotels in Costa Rica Birds

watching guide MarineTurtles 

Playas del Coco NationalParks 

Transportation guide 

Humpback Whales 


      Follow UtopiaMagazine on Twitter 

Copyright © 2010  Editorial Revista Utopia S.A. Todos los derechos reservados
Prohibido el uso de estos contenidos sin autorización por escrito de
Revista Utopia S.A.  tel (506) 2670 0625  -  (506) 8705 0999  Guanacaste - Costa Rica

magazine and travel guide