The Arenal Area Magazine

Osa turtle reserve battles bureaucracy to protect eggs


By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Efforts to raise endangered turtle eggs in protected hatcheries have met with differing levels of support from local governments when attempted on the Pacific coast.

The turtle hatcheries consist of little more than a place to bury eggs rescued from the beach where they will likely fall prey to poachers. The hatchling turtles can also be escorted to the water safe from terrestrial predators like vultures, though once in the sea they are on their own.

A project near Ojochal on the south coast has encountered difficulties with the Municipalidad de Osa, running into a barrage of paperwork to get the needed beach-use permit to put the hatchery in the 50-meter protected zone.

Once this is attained, another permit from the environmental ministry is required, but that bureaucracy is considered more sympathetic. A professional biologist named Oscar Brenes manages the scientific requirements.

The Playa Tortuga Reserve staffers allege that efforts to force the mayor to comply with court orders and remove squatters from the turtle beach have made the municipality unresponsive to their needs.

At a municipal council meeting on July 21, Brenes offered a request that the permit be extended as the turtle nesting season is about to begin and the hatchery must be readied. Mayor Alberto Cole first pretended not to remember who Brenes was, then heard him out.

The atmosphere at the meeting was considerably less formal than might be considered typical in Costa Rica, with the mayor dressed in slacks and a buttoned shirt whereas the representative of a developer there came in jeans and a half-tucked t-shirt. (He reminded those present that the investment was $8 million, in case they had forgotten.) Brenes addressed the council in shorts and sandals. A lengthy prayer was offered as grace.

According to the turtle researchers, what they are doing is
no different from last season, and they have already fulfilled more requirements and presented more documentation. The meeting concluded with the mayor and council agreeing that one more “application” was needed, though he did not spell that out in detail.

According to Cristina Volkart of the reserve, the next day the municipal personnel said they would need a report from the tax department and one from the maritime zone administration. Eventually agreeing those requirements had already been fulfilled, an application for a regular construction permit was offered and completed to the best of the abilities of the researchers.

An answer is expected soon, said Volkart.

In contrast to the travails of the Osa group, a turtle project on Isla Palo Seco has been underway since 2006. Their problems relate to the environmental ministry requirement that a licensed biologist supervise any research. The municipality of Parrita has been cooperative.

There is no money to pay a professional, so the turtle nursery has gone unused as it did last year, but the year before it was quite successful with 64 nests rescued. Egg clutches ranged from 50 to 135, according to a community activist.

The hatchery is right across the road from the Isla Palo Seco school, which at the moment has 27 students from grades 1-6, though for a more typical year there are less than 20. One teacher covers all grades.

It took help from government researchers to get the hatchery going and official. Turtles became part of the school curriculum, and two years ago the sixth graders took the project to the district science fair, and it made it all the way to the national competition, causing quite a buzz in the Parrita district.

The activist said it has been somewhat difficult to change local people’s attitudes about the turtles, since it wasn’t so long ago that so many arrived that they were allowed 10 nests per night to feed pigs.

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