Last Friday morning, the bound and beaten body of Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old sea turtle activist in Costa Rica, was found on Moín Beach on the Caribbean coast near Limón, the very place where he had labored to save endangered sea turtles and their eggs. Mora had been shot in the head and conservation groups are offering a $10,000 reward for his murder.
Mora, three American women and one from Spain who were volunteering as turtle surveyors, were kidnapped by armed men on Thursday night, says TicoTimes.net. The four women were let go unharmed.
Didiher Chacón, the coordinator for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network program, says that Mora’s killing “seemed like an act of revenge.” The activist had recently connected the poaching of turtle eggs to drug trafficking in a national newspaper. Poaching has indeed been linked to drug trafficking in Mexico, as turtle conservationist Wallace J. Nichols wrote in 2009.
Turtle eggs are believed to be an aphrodisiac in Costa Rica, according to TicoTimes.net. A single nest can contain as many as 200 eggs; a single turtle egg can fetch $1 on the black market.
Could Maro’s Death Have Been Prevented?
Back in April of 2012, poachers had raided a hatchery where volunteers were reburying turtle nests. The poachers tied up the volunteers and took all the eggs, says Vanessa Lizano, the head of a rescue center who frequently patrolled the beaches with Mora.
After the hatchery theft, armed police began to accompany the two activists on their night patrols. But Lizano was forced to leave her job as a volunteer coordinator for the Moín sea turtle program when she received a threat along with pictures of her young son. She still continued to work at the rescue center and to walk the beaches on weekends with Mora.
Turtles begin to lay their eggs in April. Limón police says they guard Moín beach four days a week, but the guarded night patrols did not continue. Mora’s awareness of the amount of danger to the turtles and to himself was apparent in an April 23rd Facebook message in which he asked that police come to Moín Beach. Noting that 60 turtles had been lost, Mora wrote “don’t be afraid, but just come armed.”
Limón police say they have interviewed nine people in connection with Mora’s killing and have turned over the information to Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Police to help in the investigation.
Conservationists have expressed widespread grief over Mora’s death, which, they say, could have been prevented in view of the hatchery theft and the threats to Lizano and her family. Arturo Rodríguez proclaims via Twitter that “Jairo Mora had to die so that the authorities would pay attention. And we are the happiest country in the world? I don’t think so.”
Todd Steiner, a wildlife biologist and executive director of SeaTurtles.org, emphasizes that “the whole world is watching to make sure the Costa Rican government brings these thugs to justice and makes sea turtle nesting beaches safe for conservationists to do their work.”
Costa Rica has become known for making ecotourism central to its economy and its president, Laura Chinchilla, has pledged on Twitter that “coordinated actions with Limón judicial authorities must insure no impunity” for those who killed Mora.” As Andrew Revkin writes in the New York Times, Chinchilla must make good on her pledge and seek justice for Mora by finding and prosecuting whoever killed him. It is the least that can be done to honor his heroic advocacy on behalf of Costa Rica’s endangered turtles.
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