Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Costa Rica and Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) Association have launched Operation Pacuare, an anti-poaching campaign to protect sea turtles on Pacuare Beach in Costa Rica’s Limón province. Marine biologists predict that September is likely to be the peak nesting month for green sea turtles; thus, they suspect an increase in poaching activity to occur during this time.
LAST, a member of WIDECAST, an international scientific network with coordinators in more than 40 countries, has been spearheading the sea turtle protection project on Pacuare Island. With volunteer numbers steadily declining, LAST called upon Sea Shepherd to become an international partner to increase awareness of the local crises and recruit volunteers from its vast network of dedicated activists to protect green, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles, which all frequent the small island to nest on a yearly basis.
Sea Shepherd and LAST volunteers are actively patrolling Pacuare Island’s coastline to locate and protect sea turtle nests, as well as the turtles. Eggs laid by these endangered animals — already facing a list of human-induced threats, including entanglement in fishing gear, by-catch and ocean pollution — can fall into the hands of poachers, a crisis that is driving sea turtles further toward the brink of extinction. Some species targeted by poachers are already nearly extinct.
An unspoken law exists in this area, where the first person to approach a turtle gets the nest. This rather primitive law is generally respected and reduces the chance of disputes. Therefore, the basic strategy to protect these turtles is a game of numbers —the more volunteers patrolling the beaches and laying claim to turtles before poachers, the fewer eggs poached and resulting dead turtles. Preliminary field reports show one volunteer to every three poachers; thus, more volunteer recruits are desperately needed to keep the nesting turtles out of harm’s way.
The unofficial population of the undeveloped island of Pacuare is only about two hundred residents, so there are few ways to make a living aside from fishing and selling coconuts. Therefore, some people turn to poaching eggs and killing turtles for meat and souvenirs as income. However, if given an alternative source of income, such as ecotourism, the locals would prefer to protect instead of exploit the turtles.
“Economic desperation is not a valid excuse to murder these gentle creatures and export their eggs to foreign markets. A sea turtle is worth far more alive than dead to all of us, poachers included. Poaching and other human activities are wiping out sea turtles at alarming rates. Many species are close to permanently vanishing from the oceans.
The time to protect them is now, and Sea Shepherd is committed to doing just that in Costa Rica and other nesting habitats around the world,” said Sea Shepherd USA Executive Director Susan Hartland.
Despite the fact that activist Jairo Mora Sandoval was killed by poachers on nearby Moín Beach in 2013, turtle slaughter and egg poaching remain relatively unexposed by the media as Costa Rica is often portrayed as an eco-touristic safe haven for animal species. Turtle slaughter and egg poaching is just the tip of the iceberg on Moín Beach, which is a hotbed for crime and illegal drug-trafficking activities. Despite its natural beauty and wildlife, this 17-kilometer stretch of coastline is unsafe without police escorts and thus, more risky to protect.
“Sea Shepherd named a vessel after devoted sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval, who was killed in Costa Rica while protecting sea turtle nests from poachers. Our plan is to expand patrols to Moin Beach next year to honor Jairo’s memory by carrying on his important work in Costa Rica. The sea turtles have many who wish to exploit them, but they also have determined defenders,” said Sea Shepherd Executive Director, Susan Hartland.
Sea Shepherd has additional sea turtle defense campaigns currently underway in turtle-poaching hotspots including Honduras and Cape Verde.