Hoax correction: The Truth about Sea Turtles and Egg Harvesting
Over the past year, photos have been circulating on the internet showing people gathering sea turtle eggs on the beach in Costa Rica. The subject line usually reads "Shocking Photos" and "Sea Turtle Extinction." While the photos are genuine, the email describes them very inaccurately. These pictures actually depict the only LEGAL, controlled harvest of sea turtle eggs, which takes place at Ostional, Costa Rica Wildlife Refuge.
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project was founded in 1989 to protect sea turtles throughout their lifecycle. We work on beaches in Central America to stop REAL egg and turtle poaching, and have helped over 300,000 hatchlings make it to the sea. We worked in the Gulf of Mexico this year to STOP BP from burning sea turtles in oil "clean-up" operations. We've helped protect over 200,000 square miles in the Pacific from industrial fishing, the threat which poses the gravest threat to sea turtles' survival.
While the public's reaction to these photos is justifiable and laudable, it is important that people know the truth about this program so that they can direct their energies towards the very real threats to sea turtles that we are fighting against: industrial fishing that takes sea turtles as "bycatch," ILLEGAL poaching of sea turtles and their eggs, offshore drilling, and real estate development on nesting beaches.
Here's what's really happening in the pictures:
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.
While biologists have not demonstrably proven that the egg harvesting improves hatchling success, we do know that the Ostional nesting turtle population is stable or growing at this site. The justification for this program was also based on an economic analysis that suggested flooding the market w/these legally harvested eggs (sold at a low price controlled by the government) would decrease overall poaching throughout the country by bringing down the value of turtle eggs in the black market.
You can also read the analysis by hoax-slayer.com. While not very technical, it is basically correct: http://www.hoax-slayer.com/costa-rica-turtle-eggs.shtml.