Lawsuit Victory Halts Legal Killing of Green Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

Date: March 11, 1999
Contact: David Godfrey
Phone: (325) 373-6441

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA – Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court has revoked a 1982 law that allowed the legal killing of 1,800 green sea turtles a year in that country. The decision was in response to a lawsuit brought by Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), several Costa Rican citizens and business owners, and a coalition of Costa Rican and U.S. conservation organizations.

CCC and 12 co-plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in May of 1998. The Center for Environmental and Natural Resource Law prepared the case for CCC, Neotropica Foundation, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, the Defensoria de los Habitantes, several private citizens, and four ecotourism lodge owners. In the suit, CCC and the co-plaintiffs argued that the Caribbean green turtle population has been decimated by centuries of over hunting and cannot tolerate the annual killing of large numbers of reproductive adults. Also, the legal harvest hid an illegal harvest of thousands more green turtles annually. In 1997, CCC researchers documented the illegal taking of 1,700 turtles from Tortuguero Beach alone.

“Last year, Costa Rica reiterated its commitment to protecting sea turtles and their habitats by signing an international sea turtle conservation and management agreement,” said David Godfrey, CCC’s executive director. “This year, by ending the legal harvest of green turtles, the country has taken a huge next step in fulfilling that commitment.”

In May of 1998, the presidents of Costa Rica and Panama signed an agreement to manage jointly the Caribbean sea turtles that migrate between the two nations. Nicaragua, which also provides vital habitat for green sea turtles, is expected to sign the agreement soon. CCC provided technical assistance to the Central American governments during the negotiations for this agreement. Now, CCC is helping with the agreement’s implementation through a regional outreach and advocacy initiative called Alianza Tortuga (Turtle Alliance) that will involve sea turtle conservationists and hunters alike in the conservation process.

CCC’s forty years of sea turtle research and conservation efforts have focused on Tortuguero, Costa Rica, the site of the largest remaining nesting population of Caribbean green turtles in the Western Hemisphere. The population is believed to have been on its way to extinction in the 1960s when nearly every female turtle arriving to nest in Tortuguero was taken for the export market for turtle soup and meat. CCC worked with the Costa Rican government to establish Tortuguero National Park in 1970. The government prohibited all turtle hunting and egg collection that same year. However, in 1982 the government passed a law allowing up to 1,800 green sea turtles to be taken from Costa Rica’s near-shore waters. The turtles were supposed to be butchered at state-regulated slaughter houses and their meat sold within the country.

Despite the law allowing the harvest of green turtles, CCC, the government of Costa Rica, and the villagers of Tortuguero, have made great strides in protecting Tortuguero’s nesting population of turtles. Villagers now say that sea turtles are more valuable to them alive than cooked up in the stewpot. Tourists pay considerable fees to watch sea turtles nest on Tortuguero Beach. Some 50,000 tourists visit Tortuguero annually to see nesting turtles and visit the tropical rainforests of Tortuguero National Park.

The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in Florida with offices and projects in several other locations. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. To achieve its mission, the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools. These tools are applied in both international and domestic programs focusing on geographic areas that are globally important to sea turtle survival. For more information, visit the STC website or call (800) 678-7853.