Science | July 25, 2021 2:21 pm

The Pandemic Led to an Increase in Poaching Turtles

Conservation efforts are at risk

Turtles
Difficult times ahead for turtles.
Stephan van de Schootbrugge/Unsplash

Life can be hard for a sea turtle. That’s been the case for many decades now; six of the seven known species of sea turtles are classified as threatened or endangered. That’s led to a number of conservation efforts to curb the decline in population — and, in recent years, that’s been working. But among the pandemic’s many side effects has been a renewed threat to the affected species. That’s not from the pandemic itself. Instead, there’s been an uptick in poaching, with people hunting turtles for their eggs and for their meat.

A harrowing new article by Alexander Villegas in The Atlantic chronicles the resurgence in poaching in Costa Rica and Panama. In the case of the former, Villegas describes the situation in the town of Ostional, which is usually home to a legal harvest of turtle eggs — one that’s carefully monitored, and which usually brings in abundant revenue for the region.

With travel paused in the last year due to the pandemic, difficult economic times have led many people to poach who wouldn’t have considered it otherwise. A similar situation has occurred in Panama, where people who’d made a living fishing or guiding tourists to fish faced a similar dilemma.

Taken on its own, this news would be alarming enough. But it’s also a sign of how the pandemic has revealed fractures in society deeper than many observers might have expected.