It has been nearly three months since the murder of Costa Rican turtle conservationist Jairo Mora, and despite arrests in the case, some environmentalists are still searching for answers. In a San José press conference on Tuesday, representatives from three different conservation groups voiced concerns about the investigation and the government’s response following the murder.
“Until now the Judicial Investigation Police [OIJ] have not confirmed a single fact about the beach’s situation with us,” said Didiher Chacón, the Costa Rica director for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network. “It seems like everything they say publicly is just repeating what the suspected murderers told them regarding the poaching situation.”
On July 31, police arrested eight people, seven of them suspected of participating in Mora’s murder and the kidnapping of four foreign volunteers who were returning from a night of collecting turtle eggs on Moín Beach, on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast. All of the suspects are known turtle egg poachers, according to police documents obtained by The Tico Times.
In a press conference following the arrests, OIJ officials described tensions between Mora and Moín poachers prior to the killing. Officials said the assailants originally stopped the volunteers’ car to rob them, but angry with Mora for continuing his beach patrols and going to the police for help, they decided to kill him once they discovered he was in the car.
Though Chacón told The Tico Times he was relieved that arrests have been made, he expressed concerns at the Tuesday press conference regarding the OIJ’s statements about the killers’ motive.
“They say that they were angry that Jairo was taking the nests,” Chacón said. “On that beach we only had eight protected nests plus some other hidden ones. In reality, these nests had insignificant effects on the poachers and doesn’t match with the idea that Jairo was a threat in egg extraction.”
OIJ Director Francisco Segura declined to comment on the environmental aspects of the beach, but reaffirmed the OIJ’s version of events.
“They say that we just adopted what the suspects told us as the truth,” Segura told the Tico Times. “That is absolutely a lie. We said what we said because we have sufficient evidence to say it. It is not always necessary to interview every person involved in a case.”
Environmentalists at the meeting also expressed discontentment with the Environment Ministry’s response to turtle poaching on the country’s Caribbean coast, and they accused officials of failing to keep promises made during open meetings in the months following the murder, including plans for a protected area in Moín.
“What concerns us is that the development of the [proposed] conservation area is progressing much slower than the development of the mega-projects in the area,” said Mauricio Álvarez of the Costa Rican Conservation Federation, referring to nine waterfront developments including a major port expansion and a refinery installation.
Conservationists also called for the formation of a truth commission to investigate other violent incidents against environmentalists, and for a response to a proposal to eliminate the culture of turtle egg consumption in Costa Rica by eliminating the legal sale of eggs to the public.
Currently, the only turtle eggs legally sold are harvested from Playa Ostional on the country’s Pacific coast. The eggs are sold in bars and restaurants.
The sustainable marketing of olive ridley eggs from Ostional has been legal since 2007, but Jorge Polimeni, from the Costa Rican Committee of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said that the influx of legal eggs has led to poaching and helped foster public demand for sea turtle eggs.
“The door that this program leaves open facilitates falsification [of certification documentation],” Polimeni said. “We don’t want to shut the program down because it has social benefits, but we need to regulate it.”
To do this, environmental groups suggested abolishing the public purchase of eggs, allowing instead that the legal sea turtle eggs be bought by the state, which could then use them to feed people in public facilities like hospitals and prisons.
“We know that this is a slow process,” Chacón said, “but eliminating the consumption of turtle eggs is essential for the conservation of the species and the safety of those protecting them.”