By Jaime Lopez
SEA SHEPHERD Media Release — A group of 11 volunteers working with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Sea Turtle Defense Campaign Operation Jairo were physically attacked by poachers last night during a peaceful patrol of Costa Rica’s Pacuare Beach to locate and protect nesting endangered turtles and their eggs. Two volunteers sustained minor injuries.
Upon spotting the Sea Shepherd crew, which included a media team as well as beach patrol volunteers, a group of poachers immediately approached and, unprovoked, began to attack the unarmed Sea Shepherd volunteers with branches and machetes. Initial reports indicate that more than 10 poachers were involved in the attack. Operation Jairo Ground Leader for Costa Rica, Brett Bradley of Australia, stood in between the poachers and his fellow volunteers, enduring most of the violent assault and sustaining injuries to his arms. Media crewmember Ellen Campbell of Canada also suffered an injury to her shoulder.
As Sea Shepherd volunteers attempted to leave the beach to safety, a security guard fired a total of eight shots into the sand in an effort to scare off the attackers. The aggressive poachers continued their assault, even firing three shots at a second member of the security team, who was hired by Sea Shepherd to protect the organization’s volunteers following threats of violence. One guard was attacked by three of the men, but managed to fend off two as the other retreated.
In addition to Australia and Canada, Sea Shepherd’s multi-national team of Operation Jairo volunteers currently on the ground in Costa Rica and present during last night’s attack also includes individuals from Austria, Spain, the United States, France and Costa Rica.
On June 4, Sea Shepherd volunteers caught a poacher in the act of stealing eggs from an endangered leatherback sea turtle, as the vulnerable nesting female laid them in the sand of Pacuare Beach. Sea Shepherd surrounded the turtle, standing between her and gathering poachers until she finished nesting and returned safely to the sea. The remainder of her eggs were relocated to a guarded hatchery. Shortly thereafter, Ground Leader Brett Bradley was told by a confidential informant that poachers were planning an attack to intimidate Sea Shepherd volunteers. These threats were reported on June 16 to the Costa Rican Judicial Investigation Organization (OIJ).
Jorge Serendero, Sea Shepherd spokesman for Central America, said at this time the group of volunteers is preparing to file a new complaint with the OIJ in Bataan, Limon. There they will also reorganize and implement increased security measures to resume efforts to protect turtles in Pacuare.
“The criminal poachers targeting Costa Rica’s endangered sea turtles are becoming increasingly frustrated that Sea Shepherd’s ground crew volunteers are standing in the way of their illegal activities. This is a clear indication that Sea Shepherd’s presence as we patrol the beaches has been effective,” said Sea Shepherd Campaign Coordinator, David Hance.
“Ground Leader Brett Bradley has confirmed to me that all volunteers are well in the wake of the attack. Our team reports that after experiencing this violence at the hands of the poachers, they are more determined than ever to continue to protect the turtles,” added Hance. “Sea Shepherd is taking all appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our crew. We have again contacted the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy and Seas and the Coast Guard, as well as the local embassies that govern each of our crewmembers. We are also in contact with the local police and are demanding that they protect our volunteers, take swift action against these poachers for their attack, and enforce the law as it relates to poaching of turtle eggs.”
With an average of only one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings surviving to adulthood, Sea Shepherd is addressing the urgent need to protect these endangered marine animals before it’s too late. Operation Jairo is currently taking place in Costa Rica and Honduras, where Sea Shepherd volunteers are protecting sea turtles from poaching. The campaign will also launch in mid-July in Florida, where volunteers will work with non-profit Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (S.T.O.P.) to guide hatchlings safely to the sea and ensure that ordinances regulating commercial lighting along the beaches, which can disorient nesting turtles and hatchlings and cause them to head away from the sea and toward dangerous roadways, are adhered to and enforced.