By Jeremy Hance
On the evening of May 30th, 26-year-old Jairo Mora Sandoval was murdered on Moin beach near Limón, Costa Rica, the very stretch of sand where he courageously monitored sea turtle nests for years even as risks from poachers rose, including threats at gunpoint. A dedicated conservationist, Sandoval was kidnapped along with four women volunteers (three Americans and one from Spain) while driving along the beach looking for nesting sea turtles. Sandoval was separated from the women—who eventually escaped their captors—but the young Costa Rican was stripped naked, bound, and viciously beaten. Police found him the next day, face-down and handcuffed in the sand; Sandoval died of asphyxiation.
"Jairo was so passionate about turtle conservation," Carlyn Samuel a researcher with Imperial College London who worked with Sandoval through the local non-profit Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) told mongabay.com. "We'd normally start our patrols on the beach at around 9.00pm and often at 4.30am, on the drive home he'd still be as fresh as a daisy, sitting in the back of the pickup searching desperately for any turtles still on the beach at dawn. Then with a bang on the roof to let me know, he'd have leapt out of the truck and would be running over to the turtle before we'd even stopped. He never tired of the work; and we'd always have to remind him to take a day off!"
Sandoval's murder has shown a bright light on the increasingly violent poaching of sea turtle eggs in Costa Rica, a practice that in some parts of the country—including Moin beach—is linked to the illicit drug trade. Sea turtle eggs fetch about $1 each on the market in Costa Rica, so with each nest containing around a hundred eggs a few nests can yield a mini-fortune. According to environmentalists in the region, the eggs are often traded directly to drug dealers, who have connections to offload the illegal eggs, either for money or a fix. The trade, fueled by the belief that the eggs are an aphrodisiac, has led to rising tensions on beaches between those trying to save sea turtles from extinction and poachers bent on raiding nests. More....