Corcovado National Park is home to olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Pacific-green sea turtles (chelonia mydas)1. Sea turtles have a history of threats including poaching, which according to Merriam-Webster is defined as “the illegal means of gaining possession of an object2.” Poaching is a complex issue that plagues many areas and species of sea turtles.
In Oaxaca, Mexico where the olive ridley is under threat from poachers, the legal consequences include nine years prison time. The 1990 protection law was enacted in response to a 50% population decline between 1960 and the late 1980’s and the combined threats of poaching and fishery by-catch injuries. Mexicanpoachers have culture steeped fromearly childhood that includes reliance upon sea turtles as food-stock and a commercial resource. Many poachers use sea turtle eggs as means to feed their family due to a lack of jobs. Poachers gross two dollars per egg on average for every 100 eggs harvested in Oaxaca3. The black market for sea turtle eggs exists due to the belief of aphrodisiacal qualities, the reputation to extend the length and prosperity of life itself, and a compliant restaurant market that includes the eggs as ingredients3.
The Oaxaca social culture of poaching exists because jobs are scarce and a lack of education in the community concerning the threat to the olive ridleys and the need for conservation to preserve species populations. Many local residents simply look on the reptiles as a source of turtle eggs forhuman consumption. Poaching of olive ridley sea turtles occurs in Costa Rica as well. Poaching is a circular problem in that it directly decreases the probability of reproductive success in exchange for illegal revenues to feed families in depressed economies.
Olive ridleys exhibit a mass nesting behavior that in Costa Rica is called “arribada,” Spanish for “arrival.” The arribada in Ostional occurs during the third quarter moon phase from August to October, during which hundreds of thousands of female olive ridleys lay eggs on the Guanacaste beach4. The laying is so extensive that the eggs of early arrivals are nearly always dug up by subsequent waves. Since early eggs are doomed by the phenomenon, Costa Rica tolerates limited commercial harvesting of the eggs from the first few weeks of the arribada for legal turtle egg sales inside Costa Rica.
Because the olive ridley mothers occur at high volumes, their eggs become an easy target for poachers wishing to sell their eggs. The government of Costa Rica has a “temporary ban on turtle-egg taking” only during the first two arribadas4. This program has had mixed feelings and reviews from involved parties. Some scientists believe that the bacteria and pollution on the beaches has reduced due to “legalized poaching” and the populations of olive ridleys have increased4. Others believe that “legalizing” poaching for a limited time only extenuates the black market.
In an ideal world, poaching would not exist. Poaching of sea turtles is ingrained in multiple cultures and can be a sensitive topic. The views on poaching are extreme ranging from sea turtle conservationists to locals from communities with traditions of sea turtles passed down from multiple generations.
Many countries belong to the CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a 1963 act that protects 35,000 plant and animal species5,6. Both Mexico and Costa Rica are among the 182 countries participating in the CITES act. As with all laws, enforcement is necessary as well.
The multifarious culture and social issues of poaching and sea turtles have improved over the years and hopefully will continue with similar positive trends in the future to maintain healthy populations of sea turtles in Corcovado National Park and all over the world.
- Corcovado National Park. “Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica – Profile and Photos.” Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica – Profile and Photos. Corcovado National Park, 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
- Merriam-Webster. “Poaching.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
- National Geographic. “Sea Turtles Might Be Threatened, But So Are Their Hunters.” National Geographic. National Geographic, 2015. Web. 14 July 2016.
- Coastal Issues / Coastal Care. “Sea Turtle Egg Poaching Legalized in Costa Rica: The Debate.” Coastal Issues / Coastal Care. Coastal Issues / Coastal Care, 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
- “Illegal Poaching.” SEE Turtles. http://www.seeturtles.org/illegal-poaching/. 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
- UNEP. “What Is CITES?” CITES. UNEP, 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
- “Sea Turtle Egg Poaching Legalized in Costa Rica: The Debate.” Coastal Issues / Coastal Care. Web. 15 July 2016.
- Flickr. “Mis Huevos No Son La Solucion.” Flickr. Yahoo!, flickr. Web. 15 July 2016.
- “Olive Ridley Turtle Photo.” ARKive. Web. 15 July 2016.