© Depositphotos.com/Niki Crucillo
Every picture tells a story, they say. However, just how accurate and relevant that story may be is dependent on the context in which the picture appears and the preconceptions and expectations of the viewer. Things are not always what they seem.
The olive ridley turtles at this site (and at about 10 other beaches around the world) nests in a near simultaneous arrival over several days, which is called an arribada. Ostional residents are permitted to collect and market the earliest nests, because later nesting sea turtle mothers accidentally destroy many of the earlier nests. Harvesting may actually increase overall hatching survival because there are less broken rotting eggs that create a soup of bacteria that can damage the eggs that are laid by turtles arriving late in the arribada. No harvesting of these late eggs is allowed. They are protected as they incubate and the hatchlings emerge to return to the sea.
A 1998 article by John Burnett, correspondent for National Public Radio, also discusses the project:
The age-old belief in the aphrodisiac power of turtle eggs sustains a thriving black market for the forbidden ovum throughout Latin America. Most countries have banned the collection of these eggs because the world's eight sea turtle species are endangered by disease, incidental capture in fishing nets, disturbance of nesting areas, and poaching of eggs and turtles.Other photographs of Ostional available online clearly show that the photographs in the above sequence do indeed depict the beach at Ostional. And, if the images really did depict an illegal poaching activity, the large crowd of would-be poachers shown would very likely be more clandestine in their activities. Those egg harvesters shown in the images are obviously conducting their activities in a very open manner and clearly show no objection to being photographed. Not the sort of behaviour one would expect from callous poachers engaging in illegal activities.
But in the coastal town of Ostional, located on Costa Rica's Guanacaste Peninsula, a 13-year-old project has helped stabilize the population of the olive ridley sea turtle. The government has, in essence, legalized poaching.
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?
"What we have done is turn people into predators," says Dr. Anny Chavez, a sea turtle biologist and one of the founders of the Ostional project, which is world famous among turtle activists.
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.
Last updated: May 20, 2013
Ostional Sustainable Egg Harvest Program - Email Hoax
Costa Rican Villagers Sell Turtle Eggs to Save Sea Turtles, but Feud with Scientists
Olive Ridley Mass Nesting Ecology and Egg Harvest at Ostional Beach, Costa Rica
Money Talks - economic aspects of marine turtle use and conservation