Imagine that you are Walter White, aka “Heisenberg,” speeding down a New Mexico highway, barely controlling an ancient and rickety motor home, with a rear compartment packed full of hidden treasures. Suddenly your rearview mirror is filled with the red and blue lights of police cruisers. Determined officers are on your tail with a mission to take away your prized package, and lock you away in a jail cell.
The officers surround your vehicle and approach the window pointing their guns and screaming at you; “Get out of the vehicle!” “Show us your hands!”
This is it, doomsday, the end of the line. You are mere moments from being sent to away to prison. You have just one word that you can think of to say and you blurt it out loudly for every officer to hear. The word stops the officers in their tracks.
They holster their weapons, whisper amongst themselves and after what seems like an infinite amount of time they finally signal to you that you are free to leave with your valuable cargo. You breathe a huge sigh of relief as you realize that you are not getting arrested, you are not going to prison and you are not losing your valuable cargo.
You are not Walter White and you are not in New Mexico. This is Costa Rica and your haul is not methamphetamine, but turtle eggs stolen from nests at a local beach. Most importantly, you are free because you used the magic word: “Ostional!”
Ostional Wildlife “Reserve”
For thousands of years, eating raw turtle eggs has been believed to be therapeutic and even an aphrodisiac by some. Modern science has debunked these myths and due to health concerns, as well as worries about extinction, many countries have banned the taking and selling of turtle eggs. Costa Rica is one of the countries that seemingly has some of the strictest protection laws on the books.
Enter Ostional Wildlife Reserve. Ostional reserve is an approximate 52-mile area, in the Nicoya Peninsula, situated along the coastline in Guanacaste. Ostional was originally declared a protected area in 1982, and has gone through many changes since that time, including a broadening of the area to protect even more beach.
The word “protected” brings to mind areas where both land and animals are kept safe from all aspects of human-induced danger. In this case, this very word is highly misleading.
One of the most glaring contradictions in this “protected area” is that this is the only legal area in Costa Rica where the government has granted people the right to harvest turtle eggs. In fact, it seems to encourage this activity, intermixing words like “sustainable” and “responsible,” neither of which hold any validity when it comes to the destruction of natural ecosystems or animal populations.
The body of government that is charged with protecting this area and enforcing the laws is called the “MINAET” (Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Technology). The MINAET has failed miserably at limiting the number of people who occupy the beach at Ostional and the beach has seen an influx of inhabitants and turtle egg seekers.
There are few bars or street corners in Costa Rica where you will not find turtle eggs for sale.
Regardless of where you are, inevitably the seller will have signs that declare these eggs as “Ostional” eggs. If you ask them, they will swear that the eggs come from that beach.
Of course, there is no way to look at a turtle egg with the naked eye and determine what beach in the world the egg was laid, but this has become the “get out of jail free card” that every egg seller now carries.
Turtle conservation groups around Costa Rica agree that the raiding of nests occurs at almost every beach in the country and that the number of eggs being taken and sold, far outweigh the numbers that come from Ostional. The government of Costa Rica/MINAET seem to have little or no will to enforce any of these laws.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) publishes an annual “red list” of all species that are in danger of extinction. Currently, six of the seven main sea turtle species are listed as endangered or critically endangered. Therefore, putting aside for the moment that even allowing only residents and legal inhabitants to harvest turtle eggs is a serious problem, adding in the thousands of eggs being taken from all over Costa Rica, under the cover of “they’re from Ostional” creates an even bigger problem.
The bottom line is that the turtles, who have inhabited this planet for millions of years, appear to be well on their way to disappearing. The government of Costa Rica needs to immediately stop the taking of turtle eggs in all parts of the country, and focus their resources on arresting and prosecuting the people that are responsible for wiping the turtle populations from the face of the earth.
How We’re Helping
In 2016, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Operation Jairo II campaign defended endangered populations of green, leatherback, hawksbill, olive ridley and loggerhead turtles in Florida, Costa Rica, and Honduras. To learn more about Operation Jairo II click here.
This summer, Sea Shepherd will embark on Operation Jairo III. To join this ground campaign as a turtle defender, click here. Or become part of our Direct Action Crew and sustainably support our campaigns every month.
Lead image source: Dmitry Laudin/Shutterstock