In 1998, Marc and Rachel Ward, U.S. visitors to Punta Pargos, Costa Rica, became aware of massive poaching of sea turtle eggs. Subsequent investigations indicated that about 99% of the eggs laid on beaches near Punta Pargos were typically poached, and the sea turtle population had declined dramatically in the last 30 years. Although sea turtles and their eggs are legally protected in Costa Rica, a poor economy and coastal population growth has led to continuation and expansion of poaching and black market trade (i.e., eggs are sold as aphrodisiacs – based on a cultural myth).
“Se vende huevo de tortuga” translates as “Turtle eggs for sale.”
In 2000, the Wards started protecting a few nests on their own. In subsequent years, they organized Sea Turtles Forever (STF), a small non-profit organization, and obtained permits from the Costa Rican government.
Today, STF pays former poachers to save eggs. From this work, they make more than they would by poaching. Also, STF’s “Turtle Man” educates local school children about the importance of sea turtles. Both of these activities help turn the local lifestyle and economy towards sea turtle conservation. The success of this program will help STF expand this model to other areas of Costa Rica where poaching is rampant and there is no law enforcement.
The map below shows the Punta Pargos project area of STF.