I have been receiving this email on the Costa Rican Ostional egg collection from many of you and I just wanted to make things a little clearer for those who arent aware of the situation at the refuge and who at first site may have been shocked by the photos.
I present to you the amazing Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea). This is a species of marine turtles that is threatened on the IUCN list and classified as “Vulnerable”. On the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) it is classified in Appendix I, which means that trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
The Ostional Wildlife Refuge in Costa Rica was created in 1984 to protect one of the world’s most important nesting beaches for the Olive Ridley. It is also the only place in the world that the government allows poaching of the turtle eggs. To understand this you need a little background info on the Olive Ridley behaviour as it sounds completely absurd I know.
Olive Ridley Nesting Behaviour:
This species of turtle nests in groups as well as solitary. The nesting beach of Ostional accomodates one of the largest mass nesting occurence in the world. This is called an “Arribada” in spanish, which means “Arrival” and it can last from 3 to around 7 days. They occur year round, usually once a month but sometimes two and the peak is during the rainy season (Aug-Dec). They choose the beginning of the last quarter of the moon cycle and in those few days they appear in hundreds and sometimes thousands on a small stretch of beach. The main arribada area at Ostional covers about 800m. As a result millions of eggs are laid by the female turtles with not enough space to accomodate them all. Most eggs on the first night are destroyed by subsequent turtles who dig up the previous nests, bringing hundreds of eggs back up to the surface, only to rot away without any hatching success. The largest arribada occured in 1995 where 500,000 females came ashore to nest, so you can imagine!
Since 1987 the costa rican government decided to allow a temporary suspension of the international ban on turtle egg taking, allowing therefore the local community to harvest the doomed eggs on the first two dawns of an arribada. The beach was then cleared from the rotting eggs that could affect the healthy ones in the ground from the developing bacteria etc. With the goal of making rational use of 1% of the egg resource in exchange for protection, the community organised itself acquiring legal status in 1987, promoting the development of community services through an alternative economic scheme. In return the community must help with conservation efforts, such as protecting the turtles by cleaning debris from the beaches and controlling the amount of vegetation on it, helping with patrol duties during the day and night to prevent illegal poaching and helping the baby turtles reach the sea unharmed. 70% of the profits are distributed to the ADIO (Association for the Intergrated Development of Ostional) members and 30% is spent in operating expenses, scientific research, grants for students in the community, sports, community events, environmental education, primary schools and other community activities. Other projects funded by this income from the eggs are to help local schools, road maintenance, scholarships to low income students, aid to senior citizens of this community and to help sustain ADIO’s conservation projects. This shows mutual benefit for both the community and for the turtles. The socioeconomic status of the entire community has increased in this area and proper management of the turtle population can be carried out. Egg removal is low relative to the total number of eggs laid, so this management plan does not seem to impact the adults at all, in fact the number of nests have increased since 1970, together with the hatching success rate.
Whether this will work out in the long term, well, we will just have to wait and see. For those of you who have managed to read down to here and are interested to find out more information, I have given some useful sites with info on the olive ridley, that might help:
Biologa y Coordinadora de Investigacion,
Programa de Proteccion de Tortugas Marinas,
Estacion Las Tortugas,