Court ends the “lawful” killing of endangered green sea turtles

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Tortuguero, Costa Rica
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Photo: A green turtle feeding on the seabed. Credit: Caroline Rogers.

In February of 1999, the Constitutional Court in Costa Rica declared an end to the "lawful" killing of endangered green sea turtles. The ruling is an important victory for the green sea turtle and potentially other species left vulnerable by their host countries.

Costa Rica has the privilege and responsibility of being a haven for one of the largest remaining populations of this endangered species of marine turtle in the Atlantic Ocean. Every two or three years, female green sea turtles, many of which are decades old, slowly plod from their ocean homes to nest on a 35 kilometer long beach between the Tortuguero and Parismina River.

Costa Rica, rather than fully protecting these ancient guests, previously had a law allowing for the capture and slaughter of almost two thousand green sea turtles annually. Unfortunately, poachers exploited the law to kill many more than the legal limit, with the survival of the sea turtles jeopardized.

In response to inaction by the Costa Rican government, and to safeguard the survival of the green sea turtle, AIDA worked through its partner organization CEDARENA to file suit and challenge the law.

In the law suit, AIDA and CEDARENA argued that the law violated the Costa Rican constitutional guarantee of an environment that is healthy and “in ecological equilibrium.” We presented hard evidence of the hidden impact of the law on the sea turtles. The Court ruled in our favor, and annulled the law. 

The ruling itself does not end the threat to green sea turtles. It may however, provide some breathing room for conservationists to concentrate on stopping illegal poaching. Hopefully, they will succeed.

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