Under the cover of darkness, a thief waits. His eyes scan the Nicaraguan beach. Before long, he spots what he is looking for. A green sea turtle is digging a large nest. She begins to lay her eggs in the nest. The thief comes closer. The mother turtle falls into a trance while she lays her eggs. She does not notice the thief. 

The thief reaches into the nest and begins to pull the eggs out, one by one, and place them in a woven basket. The turtle mother lays her last egg and uses her back flippers to cover the nest. She thinks her eggs are safe. She does not know that the nest is now empty, and the thief has taken every last egg to sell.





Costa Rica


La Flor

Beaches where 
sea turtles nest

Chacocente and La Flor are areas famous for their sea turtles. Olive ridley turtles come to these beaches by the thousands to lay their eggs during arribadas. Arribada means “arrival” in Spanish.

for Survival

Sea turtles have lived in our oceans for millions of years. But now they are among the most endangered species on our planet. As few as one in 10,000 baby sea turtles will survive to adulthood. They face many threats. After they hatch, they must crawl from their nests to the ocean. Birds and other animals try to eat them first. If the young turtles make it to the ocean, they face other predators in the water. Some die in fishing nets. Others die from eating plastic trash.

Today, all but one of the world’s seven sea turtle species are in trouble, according to the IUCN Red List. And the one that’s notthe flatback sea turtleis listed as “data deficient.” That means scientists simply don’t have enough information to know how it is doing. Of the four species that come to Nicaragua to lay their eggs, leatherbacks and hawksbills are classified as “critically endangered.” Green sea turtles are “endangered.” Olive ridley sea turtles are “vulnerable.”

Scale, 0, 200, 400 miles

Green sea turtles are an endangered species.

Some female olive ridley sea turtles nest in groups.

Of all the dangers sea turtles face, the greatest threat is people. People in some cultures eat sea turtle eggs. Across Central America, poachers destroy more than 90 percent of sea turtle nests on unguarded beaches. The eggs are smuggled into cities where they are eaten in restaurants. 

It only takes one poacher to cause a lot of damage. A stretch of coastline may have only a few female turtles. If one person were to systematically rob every nest, that person could single-handedly threaten a species. Poachers make between 50 cents and two dollars per dozen eggs. But the demand for sea turtle eggs is so high, a single egg can be sold for as much as $300.

Little is known about the routes poachers use or the final destinations for the smuggled eggs. So, the poachers are hard to catch. Eating the eggs is so ingrained in some cultures that even when caught, the poachers are rarely punished. Given all these factors, the risks to turtle eggs seemed insurmountable. Until one scientist had an idea.

trip to the sea


A female sea turtle comes onto a beach.


Using her flippers to dig, she creates a shallow nest.


The mother turtle lays as many as 120 eggs in the nest.


She covers the nest with sand and returns to the sea.


After several weeks, the hatchlings break through their shells.


The young turtles make their way across the beach to reach the ocean.