Endangered Delicacy- It's that time of year again, when the sea turtles nest on the beaches of Costa Rica. Actually in Costa Rica it is all the time, but more people are aware of these hatchings during high season. Turtle eggs are believed to be an aphrodisiac and help fight erectile dysfunction. My mouth is watering! They are therefore often illegally poached and sold throughout much of Latin America, the forbidden egg. I had the pleasure of seeing these amazing creatures come ashore en mass in Ostional, on the Pacific Coast years ago. Ridley turtles arrive here in one small stretch of sandy beach to lay eggs. It is unclear why this particular spot is chosen.
A Sandy Omelet?- Scientists found that the turtles come ashore here four or five times over a 10 month period. Each time hundreds of Ridley Turtles arrive in Ostional for a mass egg laying fest, coming to shore in mass nesting events, what are called an arribada, "an arrival". Each turtle lays 100 eggs or more. The event will last for 4 or 5 days and scientists discovered that since eggs deposited by early arrivees were being crushed by the next waves of turtles coming to lay eggs, it made sense to allow locals in this area to remove the first wave of eggs, since they were destined to be crushed anyway. It was also realized that eggs laid during the dry season were unlikely to ever hatch due to the heat of the sand, which dehydrated the eggs.
Let them Eat Eggs - So it was decided to let the towns folk collect and sell the eggs and use the money to help preserve the eggs in the subsequent waves of egg laying. The money was also used to build facilities in town, like schools and a clinic. Some of the money also ends up in the pockets of towns people, providing income where few jobs exist. The collected eggs are sold in bars and stores to meet the demand for turtle eggs and helps discourage poaching of eggs more likely to hatch. By providing a sufficient source of turtle eggs, the price of eggs stays low on the black market, discouraging incentive to poach them. Ridley turtle eggs are about the size of a lime and leathery. They are amazingly tough and can be gathered into large sacks without breaking.
Egg Grog- Since 1986 turtle eggs have been legally gathered by an organization know as the Association of Integral Development of Ostional (AIDO). The main goal of the exploitation and marketing of turtle eggs by the Association of Integral Development of Ostional (AIDO) is to achieve social growth of the community through controlled removal of eggs without compromising the reproduction and conservation of the species. The eggs were initially sold through the association but in about 1990 a food purveyor took over distribution on a national basis. Most of the eggs end up in and around the central valley and nearly 90% of them are consumed in bars, often mixed with catsup and a few other lesser ingredients in a beverage known as a sangrita, served with beer. The belief that turtle eggs increase sexual vigor results in nearly all eggs collected being consumed by adult males.
I Like Leatherbacks- Out of the 8 species of sea turtles in the world, 6 migrate to Costa Rica for egg laying. Other species that breed in Costa Rica include the Baula (leatherback), the carey, the negro del pacifico and the carpentera. Only the Ridley turtle eggs, specifically in Ostional, are allowed to be legally collected. It is estimated that roughly 6% of all turtle eggs sold in Costa Rica are illegally poached, considered to be a much lower number than if the legal gathering was not permitted. It is believed that only 1 in 100,000 eggs will result in a mature turtle due to natural pressure from gulls and vultures, mammals like raccoons, and unnatural factors like fishing nets that drown turtles and the illegal collection of turtles for their meat and shells. There are a considerable number of turtle preservation programs in Costa Rica, many protecting the eggs from predators.
Preserved Eggs- In the Refugio Nacional Playa Hermosa there is a strong preservation program and in our region in the southern Pacific, there is a program run by Hacienda Baru in Dominical. Here turtle eggs are gathered and placed in sand boxes covered by protective netting to keep birds and animals from molesting both the eggs and the hatchlings. Upon hatching, the baby turtles are released directly into the water, avoiding the run across the beach that often results in many being eaten by birds.