A Costa Rican farm company, Agropecuario Caletas S.A, is being taken to the country’s environmental tribunal by Pretoma, a turtle and marine conservation NGO, for allegedly spraying a turtle reserve with poison. The poison was sprayed using a dust cropper light aircraft and contaminated wetlands and the spray also covered the local turtle nesting and breeding beach together with the NGO’s volunteers camp. The spraying incident took place in the Arío National Wildlife Refuge, Guanacaste.
The poisons were released on the 20th and 31st July leading to massive fish kills and putting one of Costa Rica’s most productive turtle breeding beaches at risk. “There was a strong poison smell and most of the volunteers ran to get t-shirts to cover their noses and mouths” said Costa Rican Ana Ventura Pozuelo, the project’s coordinator. The following morning the beach at the mouth of the Rio Bongo was littered with dying fish (some up to a meter long), crabs, and shrimp.
The volunteers, many of whom were biologists, collected tissue and water samples and reported the incident to Costa Rica’s Environmental Ministry (MINAET). They sent investigators to the site a few days later but refused to accept the samples collected by the volunteers because they were not accredited biologists in the country. The volunteers were warned that more chemical spraying in the area would happen over the next few days though no specific details were given.
Because of the health issues associated with the chemical spraying some of the overseas volunteers have decided to leave the project. This impacts on the finances of the turtle reserve as people who pay to go on turtle conservation projects contribute greatly to the local economy. “This is the message that Costa Rican’s want to send potential tourists and biologists who are thinking about visiting this country,” asked a disappointed Randall Arauz, President of Pretoma. “There are laws that protect wetlands and public health in Costa Rica, but Agropecuaria Caletas S.A. disregards them all, and no official entity seems to be able to stop them”.
This is not the first time that Agropecuario Caletas S.A has interfered with the turtle refuge. In 2009 the company was ordered to pay $30,000 in fines and to reinstate wetlands that it had drained and burned to turn into agricultural fields and from trying to build an excess road into the reserve. It also put up barbed wire fences within the national reserve to prevent public access to the wildlife park. To date it has failed to meet to meet the courts ruling.
The owner of the agricultural company is Sylvestre Feichtinger also owns an ‘eco-lodge’ in the area called Casa Caletas Hotel – it’s also marketed as a boutique hotel in Costa Rica – and it markets the tranquility of the wetlands and the local beaches as major reasons for coming to the area. It’s a pity that one of his companies is destroying the very reason why people come to Costa Rica which is the turtles and wildlife of the area.
The beach affected by the latest incident is important for 4 species of turtle all of which or on the IUCN Red List as either endangered or critically endangered. The species are the Olive Ridley (lepidochelys olivacea), green (chelonian nydas), hawksbill (eretmochelys imbrcata), and leatherback sea turtle (dermochels coriacea).
photo credit: Chad Teer