Costa Rican police seize thousands of stolen turtle eggs

October 2, 2009

Police in the Caribbean province of Limón confiscated approximately 16,000 turtle eggs from a private plot of land near the port of Moín Wednesday morning, officials from the local Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) confirmed.

OIJ officials entered the property and found 11 sacks full of green sea turtle eggs which they believe were poached from an estimated 140 spawning turtles.

Police detained the suspect and charged him with violating the Law for the Protection, Conservation and Recuperation of the Marine Turtle Population.

The law was established in 2002 to help protect a declining marine turtle population worldwide, and prohibits the removal of turtle eggs from nests along Limón´s beaches.

But Caribbean coast dwellers have traditionally used turtles as an aspect of their culture.

Turtle meat is often used as an ingredient in soup, and turtle shells are a favorite jewelry making material.

Since the law passed, a black market for turtle eggs has sprouted.

Poachers take the eggs from the beach and sell them whole or wait until the turtle hatches and sell the reptiles as pets. Turtle meat can be sold for up to ¢ 5,000 ($8.54) per pound.

In Caribbean folklore, turtle eggs are considered an aphrodisiac and some even eat the eggs raw.

Officials are not sure what the intent was for the almost 16,000 eggs they found on Wednesday, nor if any turtles are still salvageable. Juan Carlos Vargas, a biologist for the National Coast Guard, told the daily La Nación that some of the eggs were growing mold and fungus, an indicator that they had been in the bags for at least 10 days.

He said the Coast Guard is building artificial nests, similar to natural ones, to see if any turtles hatch. They will have to wait 55 days to see if any baby turtles are born.

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