Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tough turtle

I don't know if any of you received this e-mail that has apparently been doing the rounds recently:

Aha, maybe we have just discovered why the sea turtle is going extinct & it is not global warming. !!!!!!!....

Sending you an e-mail of the turtle poachers on the beaches of Costa Rica.
What have they they all gained for the future of Costa Rica's Marine Life protection? World Wide shame in COSTA RICA.

As you might expect, the situation is not quite this simple. Yes, these people are collecting turtle eggs for sale and consumption (the original e-mail contains seven more pictures) BUT the collection is legal and some conservation organizations support these actions. How can that be?

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?

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. "
We protect the tortugitas when they crawl to the ocean. If we don't, the vultures will get them and bite their heads off," says a local 8-year-old boy, breathlessly.

Read the full story: Costa Rican Villagers Sell Turtle Eggs to Save Sea Turtles, but Feud with Scientists. One interesting consequence of this 'legal poaching' is that it drives down the price of turtle eggs reducing the incentive for illegal poaching.  The final paragraphs provides food for thought:

Globally, few efforts to save sea turtles succeed. Moreover, it's hard to find a community development project in any field where a town has for 10 years been responsibly managing and protecting a valuable resource. Biologists say that is what sets Ostional apart from other more peaceful, but disappointing projects around the world.
Despite its problems, Ostional continues to serve as a model of sustainable development. Researchers from neighboring Nicaragua and Panama - which have their own, smaller arribadas of olive ridleys - will soon visit here to find out what they can learn from the successes of Ostional. 

No comments: