Rene Castro, the Minister of Environment and Energy, on Tuesday promised action following the murder of turtle conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval.

A leatherback turtle camouflages her nest on Trinidad's Grand Riviere beach. (© Rod Mast)
A leatherback turtle camouflages her nest on Trinidad’s Grand Riviere beach. (© Rod Mast)

“We will be using the proposal submitted by the Wider Caribbean Seal Turtle Network (WIDECAST) in order to formulate a plan for the creation of a protected area”, said Castro, referring to the area where Cairo worked.

Authorities say they have no suspects in Mora’s murder, which took place the night of May 30 in the province of Limón. Authorities theorize that Mora was killed while walking the beach at night, a common practice for him in protecting nesting turtles and their eggs.

With Mora were four volunteers – three women from the United States, the other from Spain – who were also attacked and kidnapped by at least five masked men. The women told police they were taken to an abandoned house and left there, while the assailants drove off with Mora.

Mora suffered a head trauma and died of affixation from sand, according to a statement by the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ). The OIJ, in a previous statement had said Mora died from a gunshot wound to the head. The revised statement was after an autopsy was performed. It is unclear, however, if Mora was shot or not.

The conservationists were on their way to patrol the beach of Moín (north of the city of Limón) at night in search of nesting leather-back turtles, with the purpose of protecting the turtle nests from poachers.

 Sea turtle eggs in Malaysia. In Costa Rica, the eggs are stolen by poachers and sold as bar snacks (and a supposed aphrodisiac). (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)
Sea turtle eggs in Malaysia. In Costa Rica, the eggs are stolen by poachers and sold as bar snacks (and a supposed aphrodisiac). (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)

Less than a month earlier, in a conversation with a reporter from La Nacion, Jairo had denounced sea turtle egg poaching by people involved in drugs and organized crime. Jairo’s colleagues and friends are convinced he was murdered in retaliation for shining a light on the shady trade in sea turtle eggs and its close connection with other illegal activities.

Nesting sea turtles are the engine of a multimillion-dollar tourism industry in Costa Rica, generating jobs, economic development and opportunities for its people. The turtles attract tens of thousands of tourists to the country every year — tourists who spend money on lodging, souvenirs and tour guide fees.


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