Every year four of the world's seven species of marine turtles arrive on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica to nest. Among them is the Olive Ridley, an ancient turtle that has been around for more that 100,000,000 years and was at one time amongst the most prolific and abundant of all turtle species.
Thanks to extensive fishing and egg harvesting, the population of this ancient turtle that was once believed to be as high as ten million was decimated so badly that like other sea turtles it had to be placed on the 'endangered' list. Then about two decades ago, a rather controversial sounding plan was put in place by the conservationists at Costa Rica's Ostional National Wildlife refuge for the 8 X 200 meter wide Ostional beach where these turtles arrive by the hundreds of thousands twice a year - Once between January to April and the second time between May to December for an ancient reproductive ritual that the locals call arribadas ('arrivals' in Spanish).
The earlier season is usually a shorter one, spanning less then four days with about 5,000 turtles coming ashore to lay eggs. The second, which is during the wetter months of the year, involves more then 300,000 turtles and can last anywhere between 8-10 days. Sometimes the turtles even arrive twice during the rainy season!
Not only that, the females lay not one, but clutches of 100 eggs at a time, which means that over the course of the nesting season there can be millions of eggs strewn all over the beach. While this is great news, herein lies the problem. Because the turtles all rush in droves, they tend to trample over existing nests, which not only destroy the previous eggs, but also, cause them to rot and contaminate the surrounding sand. This in turn diminishes the hatching success of the surviving eggs to just 1-2%!
In order to try change that and ensure that locals can continue making a living off these eggs without getting tempted to steal them, the conservationists came up with the idea of allowing them to take as many of the eggs as they wished, but only from the early nesting days. After that, the eggs are protected just as carefully as turtle eggs in other parts of the world are.
And while there has been no measured studies done on whether this is working for the turtles, the conservationists claim that the hatching rates in this area have gone up considerably. Then there is also the economic side - By flooding the market with these eggs and keeping their prices low enough by tying them to normal eggs, there is no 'black' market and therefore, no temptation to steal more eggs - Seems like a win-win for all doesn't it? Wonder if this kind of 'legal' poaching would work for other species too!
Resources: coastalcare.org, seaturtles.org