Email that calls for a stop to a supposed “attack against nature” on the beaches of Costa Rica claims that a series of attached photographs depict crowds of people digging up and stealing turtle eggs that they will later sell.
The photographs are genuine, but they do not depict the illegal poaching of turtle eggs. In fact, the egg harvest shown in the photographs is a perfectly legal and strictly controlled event that is managed by the Costa Rican government and has been in operation since the 1980’s. Far from being an “attack against nature”, the egg harvest is an integral part of a long term program aimed at assisting in the conservation and recovery of the Olive Ridley turtle species.
A picture is worth a thousand words
For all of you who have heard about global warming causing the decline in sea turtles
Aha.. maybe we have just discovered why the sea turtle is becoming extinct; and it is not global warming!
On the beaches of Costa Rica…so that you have an idea of the ‘attack against nature’….!
please send it to every one.
World Wide shame in COSTA RICA
Please distribute widely
The Turtle eggs are stolen – harvested if you prefer – to be sold.
The planet is thankful for the forwarding of this email.
NOTHING LIKE A PICTURE TO EXPLAIN AN EXTINCTION –
PLEASE SPEAK UP FOR THEM AS THEY ARE UNABLE TO ASK FOR HELP THEMSELVES.
Every picture tells a story, they say. However, just how accurate and relevant that story may be is dependent on the context in which the picture appears and the preconceptions and expectations of the viewer. Things are not always what they seem.
This widely circulated series of images depicting the collection of turtle eggs from a beach in Costa Rica is a case in point.
The photographs themselves are perfectly genuine and they certainly do show the harvesting of turtle eggs. However, this egg harvest is not an illegal poaching operation nor is it an environmentally destructive “attack against nature” as suggested in the text that accompanies these photographs.
Instead, the turtle egg harvest is an important part of a long-term environmental project developed and managed by the Costa Rican government. The photographs show an egg harvest by villagers at Ostional beach, a remote community near Punta Gurones on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
In 1983, the Costa Rican government created the Ostional Wildlife Refuge in the area and later initiated the Egg Harvest Project (EHP). The EHP allowed villagers to continue their traditional practice of harvesting eggs while furthering the long term goal of assisting in the conservation and recovery of the Olive Ridley turtle species. The harvests are strictly controlled, with villagers only allowed to take eggs within the first day and a half of each egg laying event, known as an “arribada”.
Information about the Project published on Seaturtles.org explains:
The olive ridley turtles at this site (and at about 10 other beaches around the world) nests in a near simultaneous arrival over several days, which is called an arribada. Ostional residents are permitted to collect and market the earliest nests, because later nesting sea turtle mothers accidentally destroy many of the earlier nests. Harvesting may actually increase overall hatching survival because there are less broken rotting eggs that create a soup of bacteria that can damage the eggs that are laid by turtles arriving late in the arribada. No harvesting of these late eggs is allowed. They are protected as they incubate and the hatchlings emerge to return to the sea.
A 1998 article by John Burnett, correspondent for National Public Radio, also discusses the project:
The age-old belief in the aphrodisiac power of turtle eggs sustains a thriving black market for the forbidden ovum throughout Latin America. Most countries have banned the collection of these eggs because the world’s eight sea turtle species are endangered by disease, incidental capture in fishing nets, disturbance of nesting areas, and poaching of eggs and turtles.
But in the coastal town of Ostional, located on Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Peninsula, a 13-year-old project has helped stabilize the population of the olive ridley sea turtle. The government has, in essence, legalized poaching.
For 10 months of the year, usually around the third quarter of the moon, olive ridleys swim by the hundreds of thousands to a single mile of beach at Ostional in an ancient reproductive rite little understood by scientists. They scuttle onto the sand, dig a hole with their flippers, and drop in an average of 100 leathery, white eggs the size of ping pong balls. Over the course of a five-day “arribada,” literally, an arrival, nesting females will leave as many as 10 million eggs in the black, volcanic sand. Mass nesting is nature’s way of ensuring that after the turkey vultures, feral dogs and raccoons have eaten all the fresh eggs they want, there will be enough left over to produce a sustainable population of olive ridleys.
In the early 1980s, scientists learned that because of limited space on the beach, females arriving later destroy the first laid eggs. The researchers wondered: why not let poachers have the doomed eggs?
“What we have done is turn people into predators,” says Dr. Anny Chavez, a sea turtle biologist and one of the founders of the Ostional project, which is world famous among turtle activists.
Under a law written especially for Ostional, the government allows an egg harvesting cooperative to collect all they can during the first 36 hours of every arribada. Coop members then truck the eggs around the country, selling them to bars and restaurants. In return, the community must protect the olive ridley. Coop members clean debris from the nesting areas and patrol the beach day and night for poachers. Forty days later, when the hatchlings emerge, children from the Ostional Primary school run to the beach.
Other photographs of Ostional available online clearly show that the photographs in the above sequence do indeed depict the beach at Ostional. And, if the images really did depict an illegal poaching activity, the large crowd of would-be poachers shown would very likely be more clandestine in their activities. Those egg harvesters shown in the images are obviously conducting their activities in a very open manner and clearly show no objection to being photographed. Not the sort of behaviour one would expect from callous poachers engaging in illegal activities.
It should be noted that, at the time of writing, scientists are yet to conclusively prove that egg harvesting does actually improve turtle hatchling success in the long term. For those wishing more technical information, a 2012 paper by the Chelonian Research Foundation discusses in detail the long term viability of the harvest as a management tool and presents various management recommendations for its future.
But whatever the future of the project, the suggestion in this “protest” message that the images depict an event of “world wide shame” and an ‘attack against nature’ is misguided. And the request to send the message on in the hope of stopping the egg harvest is also misguided.
As noted above, the Egg Harvest Project at Ostional is intended to help protect and sustain this precious species. The project represents an innovative approach to species protection. Spreading misinformation in the form of this inflammatory and misleading protest message will serve only to divert attention away from genuine environmental concerns.
The illegal and uncontrolled poaching of sea turtle eggs, meat and shells in many parts of the world represents a real and ongoing threat to turtle species. But, castigating and misrepresenting a group of people who have, for many years, participated in a perfectly legal egg harvest aimed at improving the long term outlook for Olive Ridley turtles is counterproductive to say the least.