San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Jairo Mora

Turtles will be unprotected as leatherback nesting season approaches on Moín Beach

Nothing can stop the march of nature, not even an internationally known cold-blooded murder case.

Moín Beach is still recovering from the slaying of sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora, who was killed by poachers on the northern Caribbean beach last May, but starting in February, endangered leatherback turtles will start flocking to the beach again to lay their eggs.

“So far there is no plan, no security, nothing,” said Vanessa Lizano, a friend and colleague of Mora’s. “When the turtles come all the eggs will be taken by poachers.”

During the last leatherback season, Moín Beach was converted from a tropical turtle haven into a militarized zone. Bands of armed poachers looking to cash in by selling turtle eggs – a believed aphrodisiac – for $1 a pop took over the area. Conservationists were routinely threatened and held at gunpoint for rescuing turtle nests and reburying them out of poachers’ hands.

The conflict ended with Mora’s killing, and the tragedy drew international attention to the growing insecurity in the region. Despite the pressure, poachers still ruled the beach for the rest of turtle-nesting season.

Without Mora to patrol, Lizano continued walking the beach with another volunteer, but threats continued. Last November, Lizano was attacked on the beach in broad daylight while delivering food to a friend. After the attack, Lizano says she will not walk the beach without help from police.

“We don’t have any plans to do that,” said Jacklyn Rivera, the technical assessor for the Environment Ministry’s (MINAE) Vice Ministry of Waters and Oceans, when asked about guarded beach patrols. “We are working on something integrated with MINAE, the coast guard, police and the Education Ministry. This is not just our responsibility, it is everyone’s.”

Though police and the coast guard will sporadically lead operations to sweep the beach, environmentalists believe that a standing patrol of MINAE control and protection agents is the only way to protect turtles and environmentalists.

“Conservationists can’t be putting themselves between criminals and turtles,” said Didiher Chacón, Costa Rica’s director for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network. “This problem will not be solved until they send members of the government to protect the turtles.”

Chacón and Lizano have teamed up with a group of other prominent conservationists to push for Moín’s designation as a national park. The proposal would carve out 10,000 hectares of public property along the coast, 80 percent of which would be ocean, for complete environmental protection.

With help from Mario Boza, an early co-founder of Costa Rica’s national park system, the group has drafted a bill for consideration in the Legislative Assembly. If passed, Moín Beach would become a national park financed by a public trust.

“The idea is that people could donate to this trust and that money would be used exclusively for the park,” Boza said. “The park could use that to contract park rangers and protect the park, but it wouldn’t be taken and used in any other part of the government.”

The idea is not new. Almost immediately after Mora’s death, environmentalists called for a new national park to be created there. After several public meetings last year, MINAE officials seemed to favor the idea, but ended up changing their minds.

“A protected area with a high level of restriction will not work in Moín,” Rivera said. “There is a community living there that would need to be removed and that is not our position.”

In Costa Rica, the first 200 meters of coastline are a public maritime zone. Private beaches do not exist, and people without property will sometimes set up homes on these public lands. The Moín community Rivera refers to is a neighborhood of squatters, albeit an entrenched group of squatters.

According to a December social study of the area by the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, most people living in Moín have been there for at least 10 years and oppose the installation of a protected area.

Though the squatters would have to move, environmentalists argue that a national park would bring jobs and tourism into the zone, empowering the communities.

“Costa Rica learned a long time ago that investing in the environment pays dividends,” said Monica Araya, president of the Regional Center for Competitive Business and Moín National Park proponent. “National parks bring tourism and jobs. Our green image has made us who we are today.”

With the upcoming Feb. 2 presidential and legislative elections in Costa Rica, conservationists say they will not present their bill until at least May, when a new administration takes over. In the meantime, MINAE officials are still conducting studies for the formation of a less-strict protected area, but nothing will be ready for the start of turtle season.

“I’m just devastated,” Lizano said. “At this point it’s the poachers who rule the beach and we can’t do anything until the police or the government try to stop it.”

Contact Lindsay Fendt at

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Either the C.R. Govt must allow conservation activists to hire armed security ( govt financing included)
Or , the poachers need to be paid to not poach
As is, the tourist industry of C.R. will as surely die as will the turtles themselves

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Jennifer Mansfield

I think we’re at a point in time where we as a universal people need to establish a Nation-wide alliance to protect NATURE. We are the only voice and this will continue in all sectors of the world until we become a united front against all crimes towards nature….How we enlist this into our reality I have no idea. But I have sincere and genuine belief that we can–we are connected directly and we affect each other and our planet with every action we take, and more devastatingly, every inaction…

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Scott Vickers

There is a similar situation on the Hindu island of Bali, where laws exist against taking turtles for meat. The laws are often not enforced, and many turtles who wade ashore during mating season are slaughtered for their meat. People there are very ashamed of this behavior, but the government of Bali is not inclined to rigorously enforce the existing laws.

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Marc Ward

The reality on the ground is that things move very slowly in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government is also very overwhelmed with monitoring their wildlife as it is, and many locations are besieged by poaching. Squatters actually have rights in Costa Rica and are very hard to remove once they are firmly established. This will not be a problem that is solved quickly. One possible solution is to make peace and create jobs for local poachers that are more valuable than poaching the eggs. This may seem like a terrible option, but it could work. Poachers are less apt to confront local people with violence than they are outsiders. My favorite solution would be to have armed guards on the beach every night and force the poachers out, that would cost money too, and created an atmosphere of conflict. Someone will have to be paid and the solution that creates a peaceful environment on the beach is always best even though it may not be how we do things in America. Moin Beach is an area that will take huge effort to control, there is no easy solution, and no quick fix. Poachers can be vindictive and brutal, they are often drunk or on other stimulants that inhibit their ability to reason properly. They are also some desperate and dangerous people under the right circumstance. The Costa Rican authorities know this and will take extreme caution in how they handle this volatile situation. We are not going to see a quick fix at Moin Beach, it is going to take considerable time and resources if we want this location to become a turtle friendly nesting area. Moin is as far from being Florida as you can get and the way we handle things in America will never work in this volatile and unreasonable place. My suggestion remains the same, you have to hire local people who are established in the community, create jobs protecting the turtles for the locals and train them to do the work. The local people have the most influence and know how to suppress the ambivalence that can come with change. They also value having a legal job and will work hard to keep that job. They also have influence due to their extended families that live in the area. You have to get by the thought that everyone who steals eggs is a bad person and walk a mile in their shoes, they are often poor, they are often desperate to feed their families. It is truly a sad situation we have at Moin Beach, a situation that is repeated many times in all of Central America. I feel that America has a responsibility to create peace and prosperity for our neighbors and that is best accomplished by creating livelihoods for the desperate souls that live from meal to meal in these significant wildlife areas. Jairo Mora had some conflict going with some very bad people, that escalated into the worst possible conclusion. The under laying factors of that situation are foggy at best. If you were not on the ground it may be hard to understand all the dynamics that came into play. I would suggest that there are dynamics in play that make this location much more complicated than your average nesting site to protect. The Costa Rica government should be aware of these dynamics and we may not be fully aware of all the dynamics in play. What we do know is that there is a very volatile and dangerous situation at that location that will not be easily remediated. The best way to start is forming an alliance with the local people and coming to some consensus among the people on how to move forward in a way that creates a peaceful and productive outcome, if possible. If that is not possible then the only way to remediate this problem is with massive force,( American way) something that will be very expensive and also disruptive.

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Marilyn Braswell

It is so sad that the environmentalists, conservationists, the MINAE, and the Goverment of Costa Rica can not agree to help save the endangered leather back trutles. But it seems this is the way everything works down there. It is such a shame that these people can’t help safe one of God’s creation.

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