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By Kadin Hecht

Turtle cookies! The phrase echoed through my brain as I slowly walked back to the cars. It seems outrageous that people would destroy the only hope of survival of these endangered animals in order to make cookies. What made it seem even worse was that they were killing small innocent creatures.  Creatures with delicate bodies, wrinkled rough skin, and hard green shells that I had touched only the night before.  A creature like the one that I had held squirming in my hand and let go into the vast unpredictable ocean, hoping that someday it would travel back to this same beach.  This little turtle, whose life the survival of the species depends on, would be butchered for turtle cookies, shooters, and eggnog.  It seemed unfathomable to me, but to the people of Ostional, it is a way of life.526468_10152538267200725_804098317_n-1

We had spent the morning on a tour of Ostional. We had seen the soccer field school and nutrition center, all of which money from turtle harvesting had either built or upgraded. The money that was made by selling turtle eggs harvested legally by the community of Ostional helped remodel the soccer field, build a computer lab for the school, and construct a nutrition center for the community. The money went as far as to help supply money for student scholarships and give pregnant women maternity leave.  Amazingly, the community of Ostional was able to support its community by harvesting eggs once a month, and it was not only through the ways I have described.  Each family in the community receives 200 turtle eggs and about 1000 per year???? But is this money for the community that is already struggling worth risking the extinction of the ancient beasts?

Ostional is a small town of about a thousand or so people. It is located on the ocean and legally in a national reserve. However, these were not the reasons we were here. We were in Ostional because of the turtles and this very unique thing that they do here. This thing is called the aribadas. Aribadas are when millions of turtles storm the beach of Ostianol in about four days, laying millions and millions of eggs. No one knows why the aribadas happen. Or how come they happen at Ostianol. The one thing that the members of the community at Ostional do know is that, because of these turtles, they live a much better life and are able to support themselves better then other Costa Rican communities.

67896_10152538266450725_2125454998_n-1However not all people agree that this is what is best for the turtles. The people of Ostianol harvest hundreds of thousands of turtle eggs a year. The community claims that this is only one percent of the eggs laid here but it is hard to tell if that statistic is valid. What I do know is that disallowing hundreds of thousands of turtles from hatching is not helping their dwindling population avoid extinction.The day started with a tour that was lead by a short stocky man with a worn look to him. His face was haggard and he bore many scars.  With his rough, corse skin and his slow-couch latex movements, he had the weather beatten look of an old turtle who had traveled thousands of miles around the globe.  Gilbert had been the president of Ostional’s turtle conservation and egg selling program for six years, but he was now retired. This was a man with life experience.  He recounted some stories of Ostional for us. It started with the arribadas  in 1957, and shortly after this occurrence, the community knew they needed to protect the turtles. The first solution was posting guards along the beach who were supposed to guard and protect the turtles recounted Gilbert. However, “these guards soon got out of control,” he said, “the guards were chasing my grandparent’s dog, misfired, and shot my grandmother”. Gilbert himself was also shot by guards and his house was sent up in flames. This was when the community realized that this was not the solution to saving the turtles. In 1981 they set up a wildlife refuge and put in place the system that they are using today. Gilbert feels very strongly that what Ostional is doing is right and that they have the perfect system in place.  He tells us that he “would give his life to protect the community of Ostianol and the turtles”.

536200_10152538266400725_342363641_n-1It is a fine line that Ostional walks between supporting the community and saving the turtles. It is impossible to know how well there system works because there are so few beaches that have aribadas that it is almost impossible to compare. However we do know the money is made from turtle eggs that have a very small chance of surviving the onslaught of nesting turtles. The money from the turtle eggs is going to a poor community to promote and help education and nutrition. So no matter how you feel turtle conservation should be done, it is impossible to ignore the fact that turtle populations continue to increase on the beach of Ostional and that the community is getting an extra boost of money from turtle eggs.