The awful news about the murder of Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval has shocked the world. Jairo was a brave young conservationist working hard to protect an important leatherback turtle nesting beach called Moin Beach, near the port city of Limon on the Caribbean coast. The beach was well-known both as a place for poachers to collect turtle eggs and a key location for drugs to enter Costa Rica. Along with Jairo, four volunteers from the US and Spain were locked into an abandoned house and robbed (they later escaped unharmed).
Many people come to Costa Rica’s beaches each year to see sea turtles nesting or to volunteer with conservation programs. These visitors and volunteers are critical to the success of local organizations, providing both manpower and funding to continue their work. We connect more than 100 people each year to turtle projects with no incidents. With this recent news, many people now want to know whether it’s safe to go to Costa Rica.
Most of the country’s beaches do not face the danger that exists at Moin Beach. The majority of turtle nesting beaches in the country are remote with few people living nearby and are not used for transporting drugs. While poaching exists across the country due to a lack of enforcement by government authorities, in most places the people that collect the eggs do so away from researchers and conservationists that patrol the beaches. It’s rare for a poacher to confront a conservationist and most turtle projects have safety measures in place to make sure that the beaches are safe and only Costa Ricans interact with local residents on the beach at night.
Costa Rica’s sea turtles need the help of volunteers and tourists now more than ever. It’s always a good idea to check with the organizations that run the conservation programs to see what safety measures they have in place and what the current situation is as well as with the State Department (link below). One thing to keep in mind is whether the beach is part of a protected area; in some cases those beaches have more personnel on the beach. We are confident that the beaches where we send people are safe and would not put anyone in danger by organizing a trip or recommending a place that might not be safe.
SEE Turtles is working with a coalition of organizations to respond to this tragedy by offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the killers, creating a memorial fund to support Jairo’s family and create a national park in his name, and to put pressure on the Costa Rican government to respond to this crime and ensure the safety of all nesting beaches. For more information, check out the resources below.
By Brad Nahill
Director & Co-Founder
SEEtheWILD & SEE Turtles
US State Department Travel Page (Costa Rica)
The Legacy of Jairo Mora Sandoval
Washington Post article on Jairo’s murder
Memorial Fund for Jairo Mora Sandoval
Petition to the Costa Rican government
SEE Turtles Statement on the Death of Jairo Mora Sandoval