Report from the Field: Operation Pacuare
Sea Shepherd launched Operation Pacuare to protect endangered leatherback and green sea turtles, and the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle, from poachers as they come to nest on Costa Rica's Pacuare Beach.On August 15, 2014,
These poachers, who hail from Pacuare Beach as well as throughout Costa Rica, scour the beach each night looking for both sea turtle eggs and the turtles themselves as they come ashore to nest. The eggs - falsely believed to be an aphrodisiac - are eaten, while the adult sea turtles are killed for human consumption.
To directly prevent the sea turtles from falling into the hands of poachers, volunteers from Sea Shepherd and Latin American Sea Turtle Association (LAST) - a member of WIDECAST - as well as local patrol leaders hired by Sea Shepherd, walk the beach every night in search of turtles that have nested. Once a nest is found, the eggs of the endangered turtles are moved to a hatchery, where they will be continuously guarded until they hatch. The baby turtles are then released safely into the ocean.
September is part of the low-season, with fewer turtles coming to nest; however, our patrols have saved seven turtle nests thus far - preventing 125 hawksbill and 689 green sea turtle eggs from illegally landing into the hands of poachers.
On September 8th, Sea Shepherd was able to save an adult green sea turtle from a poacher's deathly grip. The turtle had been flipped on her back, rendering her immobile. Before the poacher could return, however, Sea Shepherd volunteers discovered the turtle. The Costa Rican Coast Guard was called and the turtle was guarded until the authorities arrived. This lucky green sea turtle was then carefully turned upright and returned to her ocean home unharmed.
Despite our diligent efforts to save every sea turtle who comes to nest, on September 30th, as we patrolled Pacuare Beach alongside a former local poacher, tracks of a green sea turtle were found with the footprints of poachers that told the sad story of how she was taken from the beach. As the turtle emerged from the ocean, poachers spotted her immediately. The poachers then followed her up the beach, and as she began to dig her nest, she was flipped onto her back, tied upside down to a pole, and carried into the woods. Away from the footprints in the sand, the sea turtle's fate turned deadly - she was butchered for her meat and gutted for her eggs.
Locally there are poachers living on Pacuare Beach. However, there are also many residents who are committed to the survival of the endangered sea turtles. In addition to nightly patrols looking for nesting turtles, Sea Shepherd has been working with locals to patrol the beach. Sea Shepherd has also hired a local cook, and will work with the community on initiatives such as the creation of a recycling center to keep the beach clean, and delivering school supplies to the local school while presenting a lesson on the importance of turtle conservation.
The nesting season continues until November 1st, and Sea Shepherd and LAST volunteers will continue to patrol the beach each night until that time, drawing a line in the sand between the endangered sea turtles and their poachers.