Poaching of Costa Rica Sea Turtle Eggs – Turtle Poll

Should Costa Rica Make all Turtle Harvests Illegal to Help Stop the Poaching?

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Should Costa Rica Toughen Their Laws on Poaching Sea Turtles Eggs?

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If you are over 50, have traveled a lot or lived in Mexico or Central America, particularly the coastal areas, you ate turtle. Sea Turtle is an awesome tasting seafood, whose bright-red, bloody meat would turn angel white just Baby Sea Turtleseconds after hitting a fry pan that was lightly seasoned in olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic.

Turtle meat and eggs are a delicacy and a way of life in many countries, including Costa Rica. The eggs are richer tasting than chicken eggs and packed in protein.

Chevy (nickname), a long time friend, remembers when growing up in San Juanillo (south of Tamarindo) in the late 1960s,  his mom would send him and his little sister to the beach to get turtle eggs.  They would come back with a basket filled within 15 to thirty minutes. When he got into his teen years and when he needed money, would fill up a bunch of baskets and sell them to local markets, restaurants and street vendors. Back in those days  one dollar was worth around 6-7 colons. Chevy would sell a dozen eggs between 3 to four colones.

Nobody thought about conservation back then, but since the mid 1970s times have changed for the turtle.  With worldwide eco-protection  – now the demand for turtle and it’s eggs has increased to epidemic poaching!

  • A few months ago, on eBay, hundreds of pieces of jewelry, shells and other products made from endangered sea turtles were found for sale on the Internet auction site. All of these items, including jewelry, guitar picks, cigarette cases and other decorative ornaments, were being sold through at least 30 separate eBay auctions.
  • Acting on a tip, in late July, 2010, customs officials in Brunei (South East Asia) confiscated 4,150 illegal turtle eggs and arrested two men. It was the largest turtle egg seizure so far that year. Most of the eggs were from the Leatherback Turtle, which is on the Critically Endangered list.
  • In Acapulco, in May, 2010, Mexican authorities seized nearly 6,000 sea turtle eggs and arrested two people. In August 2010, Mexican authorities caught six people with 3,756 illegally harvested eggs from the protected Olive Ridley turtle in the coastal town of Guerrero, east of the resort city of Acapulco.
Mexican Poacher

A poacher in Oaxaca, Mexico takes eggs from a nesting Leatherback. (Photo: Alejandro Fallabrino)

In Mexico, the law is severe for those caught with turtle eggs, it is punishable by prison terms of one to nine years. The Mexican government began imposing $16,000 fines 20 years ago for killing turtles or trafficking their eggs. For a country that is overrun by drug traffickers and whose the country has one of the highest rates of turtle poaching in the world, they also have some of the stiffest penalties for poaching.

Like the drug trade only a fraction of poachers are caught, and because of this, it is unclear of what the real statistics are of poaching turtle eggs.

Unfortunately Costa Rica does not have the same laws to protect their turtle, nor do they have the press releases of catching poachers.   According to Sea Turtle Restoration, poaching on any Central American turtle beaches (and perhaps the world) is close to 100%. Even the protected areas like Costa Rica has,  poaching in the Guanacaste region is 95% and on the Pacific Central in places like Esterillos it is 98%.

Harvesting Turtle Eggs in

Legal harvesting turtle eggs in Ostional Wildlife Refuge.

In 1983, the Costa Rican government created the Ostional Wildlife Refuge in Ostional, located on the Guanacaste Peninsula, and later initiated the Egg Harvest Project (EHP). The EHP allowed villagers – organized in a cooperative – to continue their traditional practice of harvesting eggs while furthering the long-term goal of assisting in the conservation and recovery of the Olive Ridley turtle species.  This program has greatly increased the population of the Olive Ridley turtle.

The Costa Rica government also granted Ostional the right to sell turtle eggs, whose proceeds help conversation programs like the EHP. Selling is limited to around 38,000 eggs per nesting AND that selling is only to the people of Costa Rica. Tens of thousands of turtles lay their eggs in the Ostional Wildlife Refuge every year, laying an estimated 4 million eggs and that is ONLY one small area.

It is a debated whether or not this has encouraged the illegal harvesting of turtle eggs, which could be a major threat to all species of marine turtle.   People became outraged  back in  Feb, 2010 when   photos circulated in emails showing  villagers  harvesting (or stealing) eggs by the bag fulls. Recently there was an article with a few links in AM Costa Rica. explaining the pros on harvesting.

Unlike Mexico’s turtle laws, Costa Rica’s law is geared toward the locals because of cultural habits.  Most of the older generation of Costa Ricans will tell you that turtle eggs were traditionally slurped in bars from a shot glass, uncooked and mixed with salsa and lemon. Like Chevy, you went out with your friends or family and dug up the eggs.  Even nowadays, there is nothing wrong with having a few turtle eggs in your possession, and normally if caught with a bunch, your fine is to share those eggs with the policeman. There is no jail time.

When I asked Chevy about the law, he laughed, “¿Qué ley” (What law?) and explained, a few weeks ago a fewof his friends were caught with a few thousand turtle eggs. His friends ended up splitting the shipment with the two officers.

However, for a foreigner to be caught ‘poaching’ eggs, expect (unlike the severity of Mexican law) a fine of a few dollars and/or a night in jail. If you defend yourself, claiming those eggs were from Ostional, chances are you can go your merry way.

Selling Costa RicaTurtle Eggs

At the Mercado Central in San Jose, turtle eggs are being sold

No doubt the harvesting in Ostional has helped stabilize the population of the Olive Ridley sea turtle, but under the aegis of the permit to sell. God only knows how many bags of eggs have found their way to the black market. Other words, a lot of bags are stamped to resemble the Ostional stamp of approval, but no one checks to see if it is the real stamp or just a forgery.

Many have claimed the government has, in essence, legalized poaching all over Costa Rica; Who’s goin’ to question, “What beach have the turtle eggs come from? And “If the eggs were legally or illegally harvested?” And  “If the eggs are going to the local economy or to the oversea one?”

With the increase of worldwide conservation, the largest demand for turtle eggs is for their supposed aphrodisiac effects, just like rhino horns or bears livers are.  The largest market is in the Asia countries.  In Costa Rica, sea turtle eggs are also considered the ultimate aphrodisiac. Today, you’ll find them in local bars, restaurants and markets that are off the beaten path, far from most tourist areas. And during the nesting season, roadside stands offer them by the bucket full for $2 per egg, which has also outraged Costa Ricans.

The demand for black marketed turtle eggs has inflated local sales by 500%, if not more.

The problem is not Costa Rica’s culture and tradition, but the horny greed of the Asia market (like shark fins), the demand for turtle eggs can cost from $100-$300 USD per egg. And with Costa Rica now becoming the new hub for drug trafficking, it is easy to see how the smugglers have added turtle eggs to their list. The market can be profitable as drug smuggling, but nowhere close to the high risk.

I asked Chevy, “How widespread is the [overseas] poaching?"

He smiled back, “It’s like a strong wind, you can’t see it, but you can sure as hell feel and see the effects of it.”

He feels the effects in his pocketbook and taste as the local market dwindles for something that was readily available and cheap! And the government should take more steps to combat poaching.

It is common street talk that turtle sanctuaries have made deals with commercial poachers who sell to traffickers.  They give them X amount of eggs; in return the poachers will not steal or just plain old fashion bribery and extortion.   Egg collecting and selling is illegal unless you have a permit; to get around this, these sanctuaries give the poachers a receipt, so in fact they can “legally” resell those eggs to “whomever” they please.

There is no real regulatory enforcement and/or authority to competently oversee the number of eggs sold/collected due to lack of funds, resources, and manpower. Literally millions of eggs find their way overseas.

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  1. Cali Will says:

    Yes, the "tradition" of Costa Ricans eating Sea Turtle Eggs goes back 100 years. 
    100 Years Ago in the United States we had a tradition of killing Costa Ricans!  Not only could you kill Costa Ricans with impunity you'd get good money for their skalps!  Native American Skalps could be turned into the US Goverment for cash, $20 for a man's sklp, $15 for a woman's skalp and $10 for child's skalp.  We also had the tradition of Slavery, and branding women who were accused of cheating on their husbands, and burning people at the stake if they weren't Christian enough.
    Maybe it's time we get over these backwards "traditions" and start behaiving like human beings?!?
    Just saying…

  2. britany says:

    I dont think i like the way this person speaks of the problem with the turtle conservation he doesnt seem to be pro turtle really, just more stating the facts about the problems with their decline. and actually joking about talking with your friend about eating them? come on that aint cool that breaks my heart. im no vegitarian but i will damn sure never be caught eating endangered animals. if it is so hard to get turtle eggs, and dangerous in some places, faceable by jail time-fines what ever then why do people risk messing with the poor little creatures. ok so what ever you were raised eating the turtles its your nature? i dont care thats crazy its easier, (and leagal) to get some fish and eat that, or chicken, beef, pork, eat the things that are not endangered. be normal like the rest of us  and give our endanger wild life a fighting chance have a heart  have never seen a sea turtle in person and its been something i have wanted to do since i was little but i live in ohio and we dont have any, so please dont make it so that when im able to travel to see these amazing creatures i can actually find one/ help one start its journey to the ocean from its sandy nest. And let me be in total awe because i actually get to see one.

    • admin says:

      Obviously, there are a few people who think being cynical is cool, when in reality all they are doing is showing off their stupidity. In this case, we will let the millions that view this website a month, see it.

  3. rainbow says:

    sea turtles are gay

  4. the reaper says:

    I love sea turtle eggs they taste amazing I eat them fore very meal and drink them as well while i eat them in a glass

  5. Becky says:

    As a visitor to Costa Rica, I recently saw an e mail that has gone widespread abt Costa Ricans hauling off the sea turtle eggs in huge bags!! This is horrible, and so NOT like the Costa Rica advertised and that my family visited! I won’t recommend anyone visit while this goes on with corrupt officials turning their heads. I will encourage OUR people visit OUR beaches where we protect sea turtle nests and watch over them. in SC, USA

  6. Jeanette says:

    I say inform all the tourist agencies worldwide to post these pictures when clients sign up for a trip to costa Rica. Hit the costa Rican govt in their pocketbooks and see what happens then. However, there is greed in the tourist agencies too, but hopefully more people will become aware of this terrible, terrible problem with really ignorant people. I wonder if there are any school programs teaching children about the turtles; perhaps they can get through to their parents. It is so sad, after the journey the turtles go through to come back to their birth place.

  7. Eryl Davies says:

    Thank you so much for writing such an informative article, I have certainly had my eyes opened and have passed the piece on to other interested parties. This is a disgrace and along with so many other cruelty issues is gowing to be hard to police.
    Thanks again for opening my eyes

  8. orli halaby says:


    it’s seems that your information is not as written in the sea turtle restoration project above…

  9. Rampworm says:

    I say shoot the poachers, and toss them into the sea to feed the sharks.

    These phucked up third world countries seem to be just full of dumb people needing some seriously strong medicine. Seems they understand nothing regarding the planet and to allow this to happen with all this exposure means nothing to the screwed up Government of Costa Rica.

    Killing the last turtle means nothing to these stupid ignorant people. They take the eggs and don’t even bother to cover up any of the eggs they leave laying in the sun.

    I would rather have turtles than stupid Costa Ricans.

  10. Charlotte says:

    I too was sent that awful email, which I sent on to friends all over Ireland, UK, and US.. found this site and was in a small way relieved, esp in Arturos comments.. but it doens’t stop me for being everything from saddened to outraged at the mass thieft and destruction of the sea turtles.. I just wish I could help in any way… yes the shark fins, rhino horns, and trees all are in a very vunerable position with US the supposed MEN of the earth..surely with the world crumbling around us.. just about EVERYONE should be made to sit up and take notice of all these wrong doings .. ???

  11. Arturo says:

    Sorry. I have worked in turtle conservation for almost ten years, in the field and legislators and can give you my opinion.

    The “laws” regarding turtles and byproducts do not work. Plain and simple. I have almost physically fought with MINAE(T) rangers because they didn’t want to get out of bed to apprehend poachers. The poachers rely on the lax MINAE rangers and the MINAE rangers complain that either they do not want to disrupt whatever community they are in OR even if they do anything, the poachers will be back the next day. I have even heard a Ranger say that they cannot catch a poacher since he was not in a Reserve or Park. Even if poachers are caught, the fine is a slap on the wrist. There is a perpetual cycle of apathy that exists and is problematic. Turtle programs turn to MINAE, MINAE says there is little they can do since the laws are minimal and, in turn, do not enforce the minimal law there is(Ley #8325). In essence, everyone throws their hands up saying “what can we do?” while “saqueadores” operate.

    I learned from poachers-turned-conservationists. And the first thing I learned was poachers rely on the loopholes and latency of the laws and government officials to operate. They know a MINAE ranger isn’t going to get out of bed or spend a night in a sting operation to catch a poacher who will only be out of jail with a minimal fine before the Ranger is back for breakfast. They also know that a tourists cannot testify in court and they need a national (Tico) to testify or even bring the poacher to a judge. If I remember correctly, 7 foreign witness = 1 tico witness. Anything less is a waste of the ranger’s time. It frustrated me too. I have seen poachers operate in the open in front of tourists because of this.

    As far as Ostional goes, the first question that comes to mind is why. I too received the hoax email and had to explain to a lot of friends what exactly happens on that beach. In order to better understand the situation, some logistical information must be given. Ostional Beach stretches a kilometer and a half at most and due to the large number of nesting turtles, initial clutches are destroyed in the nesting process. As thousands of Olive Ridley turtles descend on the beach to nest, the majority of previously laid nests are crushed or dug up during the second nesting wave of the arribada (up to 70/85%). If left alone, the eggs from the first wave of the arribada start to decompose and become a dangerous source for bacteria that damages all subsequent nests. And to further compound the issue, this brings about the infestation of the developing eggs by fly and beetle larvae, causing significant mortality of embryos. For example, the beetle larvae (Omorgus suberosus fabricius) has become a plague in the world’s largest arribada rookery in Escobilla, México where it is provoking steep drops in the hatching efficiency of the clutches laid, from a typical 30% for this colony to less than 1.5% in some areas. When combined with the relatively low hatching rates of high-density arribada beaches and the destruction of eggs laid by previous nesters, this problem could provoke the rookery’s decline. This results in total failure of nesting on the beach for the entire arribada and following arribadas. In the early 1980s this was true and no legal harvesting was taking place. I can only assume that someone thought up the idea “why not let the eggs that are going to be crushed and creating a threat to subsequent nests be given to the villagers?” This creates a win-win situation where villagers (who are under a written contract with the village co-op) are allowed to collect eggs and sell them to bars and restaurants. Conversely, the villagers, under contract must protect the Olive Ridley by cleaning debris from the nesting beach, run patrols, and protect the eggs and nesting females from illegal poachers. Since the eggs and the tourism related to the nesting females create a monetary source from the villagers, it is in the best interest of the villagers to protect the Olive Ridleys. And having been to the Ostional (which is very remote), I can definitely say that if you are not a local villager and attempt to start collecting eggs, you will get noticed. Since egg collection became legal for Ostional, local villagers have been able to harvest and sell approximately 3 million eggs annually. They are permitted to collect eggs under strict guidelines, as many of these eggs will be destroyed later. Roughly 27 million eggs are left, and villagers have played a large role in protecting these nests from predators, thereby increasing hatching success.

    I have worked in turtle projects on both coasts in Nicaragua,Panama and Costa Rica. There is no other way to put this but we (turtle conservation projects) are practically alone in the fight. In my 5 or 6 years of field work, I can count on both hands how many times I have seen Park Rangers come out at night to help us. Most of the time it was because of a female volunteer. I have been threatened, harassed and physically assaulted by poachers. Because they know we are out there with young volunteers with nothing to defend ourselves but a torch with filter paper. I have also pepper-sprayed poachers and put glass in fake nests, relying on wit to help these animals. I do this because turtles need my help more than I need my sleep. More than what I can say about MINAE.

    The problem just isn’t TicoLandia or MINAE, although iti s obvious I do not care for MINAE. These turtles cross imaginary borders and require helps from many many local, regional, national and international governments and NGOs. Poaching is a big issue. But to solely lay the blame on poaching misses 99% of a turtle’s life cycle spent in-water where they are subject to pollution, in-water fisheries, environmental degradation, bycatch etc etc. If these turtles (as well as tuna, sunfish and other megafauna) are to have healthy populations, these must be a concerted effort between many many govts and NGOS on multiple levels.

  12. This article made me hungry.

  13. I think this was a great article. Kudos to the author. A family member sent me a picture of the “harvest”, and I was horrified. This article has given me a better perspective. Thanks.

  14. Hilary Riveras says:

    The author wrote about many engaging things in this posting. I found this article by searching Yahoo and I’ve got to admit that I already subscribed for your blog site, it is extremely decent ;D

  15. Glenna Wedge says:

    I was shocked to see a country I wished to visit has little regard for our sea life., and it dosen’t surprise me that asia will import this helpless creatures offspring to eat. Like they need to f**K up anything else. Surely they see that but just don’t care. The problem is with them also., they have the funds to lay down the laws about buying indangered species in the first place. But laws from Costa Rica need to change too.
    As for the author of this article, thanks for opening my eyes, and the world.. show this to all.

  16. Paula Green says:

    This is the first article I have seen on the problems of poaching in Costa Rica. My compliments to the author on this very controversial subject. The government should take better steps in controlling the harvest instead of letting the poachers do it.

  17. Arthur says:

    I am not amazed by this at all.Money has caused the downfall of our earth by killing off trees and causing animal species to go extinct. Then people moan about the weather when all along it is being caused by the natural air conditioner of the earth called trees being cut down at staggering rates. The greedy rich are killing off the people of earth.Laws need to be enforced and measures taken to make sure tree cutting stops!

  18. Sally Farness says:

    I don’t know if the author of this article is gringo or tico, but it is obvious they know the real problem and have the guts to publish the truth for the world to know… GREAT and WELL WRITTEN BLOG POST that gives both sides

  19. Melanie says:

    Costa Rica, I am very disappointed. I promise to never visit your country until you conserve the sea turtles. I felt sick reading about this. Sickened and sad.

    Excellent article.

  20. Amber says:

    I’m happy to see a great non-partisan article such as this describing both the pros & cons for both sides of the argument.

    The problem is more about the ravenous cravings of the Asian population to devour endangered species worldwide for their sexual titillation. Shark fins? Turtle eggs? Lets introduce them to Viagara instead.

    Reduce the demand, then the supply will dwindle.

  21. Victoria Wallace says:

    We all have to wake up to the fact that it’s 2010 and even though my ancestors used to eat lots of caviar, there isn’t much left and the sturgeon is almost extinct because people wouldn’t stop. The same thing is true about the turtles. So what, it was a custom and you used to eat them by the buckets. They are disappearing and the custom should be stopped. And Asia, don’t even get me started on the rape of the earth and all it’s creatures by these men and their small penises! Nothing will work better than Viagra but they keep killing animals for their aphrodisiac effect, what idiots. The government needs to stop all poaching. Only 1 out of 100 turtle eggs ever becomes a grown turtle anyway. That is why the turtles lay so many, to give the species a chance. Wake up and grow chickens and leave the turtles alone before there aren’t any! People around the world have to wake up to the fact they can’t use what they did in the past to excuse what they’re doing now. Life is not the same. the best things we can do; use the brains God gave us and don’t help destroy what is not yours to destroy, limit your pro-creation to two children! In fifty years the earth’s population has gone from 2 billion to 8 billion. we have to quit having so many children or none of them will have anything!
    Thank you, you have a beautiful country, preserve it!

  22. Jeanette Christy says:

    I recently received, via email, the photos of the locals harvesting the eggs from the Ostional Wildlife Refuge. After the shock wore off, I wanted to know why so many eggs were being harvested (stolen) so I went to the Internet in search of the answer and found this article. In addition to the very informative article, I also read about the conservation program mentioned in SenorCostaRica’s comments stating that eggs are harvested immediately after the female lays them and taken to a safe place to incubate; then they are released to the sea. It was wonderful to read that; so thank you.

  23. Julie C says:

    The author hit a “bull’s eye” on this. What some of the conservational groups in Mexico do is hire the poachers to help protect the nesting beaches. Maybe Costa Rica should due the same thing and set a bounty – who is better on catching poachers than a poacher.

  24. Sally R says:

    Those ass—s poachers should have their huevos poached!

  25. Mike Ambruse says:

    I disagree with D. Havena that no one said the “sea turtle population decline was due to global warming” there has been many articles about it like this one from National Geographic http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/07/080722-sea-turtles.html. Costa Rica should be more aware and spend more time protecting the turtle. Thanks to the author for a well written article on a sour subject that 99.9% have turned their backs on. Pura Vida

  26. D. Havena says:

    No one ever said the sea turtle population decline was due to global warming- the reasons were thought to be loss of habitat to human encroachment and pollution. So, at least 1 of those 2 theories is obviously correct.

  27. sharon rogers says:

    This is an absolute disgrace, the Costa Rican government has got to stop this outrageous practice from continuing, for god sake if they know these bastard poachers are going to do it why not sit and wait for them and lock them all up when they hit the beaches, obviously the government is not serious about stopping this.

  28. Marco says:

    I was born in Costa Rica and I have witness over the last five years the poaching getting out of hand, THANKS for writing about this…

  29. Tom Daugherty says:

    Global Warming my a**…100 years ago there were 1.5 Billion people on the Earth. Today there are 6 Billion. Lots of mouths to feed and most of them will eat just about anything. How about we call it what it is…Global Swarming!

  30. China greasing evey government official hand, and in return they get the eggs for those old farts who cant get it up just like they do with the warehouses full of shark fins

  31. Allan says:

    Al Gore and his Global Warming BS can go suck a turtle egg.

  32. Maria says:

    THANK YOU for a great “tell it like it is” article. This is the first that I have seen that writes about the true “reality of the turtle”. As a Tica, I witness the destruction of our turtle grounds by greedy ecology groups that sell eggs to traffickers and the government does nothing about it!!! It is shameful to our country.

  33. Bonnie says:

    Horrible! Save the turtles, but not at the expense of the people. Let’s feed them too.

  34. DEBBIE says:


  35. Hacienda Matapalo helps to sponsor the first annual Playa Matapalo Turtle Festival, an event celebrating the marine turtle population that nests along the pristine coastline and the conservation efforts to protect them.

    The three day event was the culmination of months of planning by local residents and neighbors from surrounding communities. Things kicked off on Friday when Playa Matapalo was officially awarded a coveted Bandera Azul or Blue Flag, for maintaining the highest levels of environmental soundness along the shoreline. The Bandera Azul is awarded by the Costa Rican government and only a select few beaches receive this award each year.

    Saturday’s events started at 5:30 a.m. with the release of turtle hatchlings from the Playa Matapalo Marina Turtle Conservation Project. The turtle project focuses on increasing the number of baby turtles that are released into the sea by providing secure areas where eggs can incubate. Volunteers patrol the beaches at night searching for female turtle laying eggs, which are collected and reburied in a protected area until the hatchling emerge some 45 to 60 days later.

    Many of the volunteers for turtle conservation program are college students that are making time to do service work at various projects across Costa Rica. They are generally in Matapalo for about 2 weeks before moving on to another project. This particular weekend the visiting college students were from Germany, England, Aruba and the Nederlands. Perfect weather was on hand with moderate temperatures and scattered clouds which made for a great day at the beach for families. All told, close to 1,200 people were on hand for the weekend.

    Other events during the day included a surfing competition, a boxing exhibition, the Matapalo Farmer’s Market, and a soft opening of the El Coquito Hotel on the beach. Evening activities included “Disco Movil” which is a hugely popular traveling dance party event with live music and DJ’s. Make plans to be in town for the 2010 Playa Matapalo Turtle Festival


  1. […] efforts to end the poaching of turtle nests, the poaching rate on Costa Rican turtle beaches is still close to 100%. How could that be? Why hasn’t anything changed? The problem lies in the fact that the poaching […]

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