LIMÓN, Costa Rica, June 5, 2013 (ENS) – Costa Rican environmentalist Jairo Mora Sandoval was murdered on May 30, while attempting to protect leatherback turtle nests on Moín Beach, on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast. He was 26.

Sea turtles are protected by law in Costa Rica, but poaching is common. The eggs are believed to be an aphrodisiac and are traded on the black market, a trade that has been linked to drug trafficking and violence.

Joira Mora Sandoval

Jairo Mora Sandoval monitors an endangered leatherback releasing her clutch of eggs. (Photo courtesy Sea Turtle Restoration Project)

According to media reports, Mora was patrolling for poachers with four foreign volunteers, when he was ambushed by at least five masked men.

Of the four volunteers, all women, three were from the United States and one from Spain. They were also abducted in the night attack, but survived. Mora was bound, beaten, and shot in the head. His body was found the next day.

Environmental organizations around the world are demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice. Today they announced the Jairo Mora Sandoval Reward Fund for information leading to arrest and conviction of those responsible. A $10,000 reward is being offered by conservation groups.

“Jairo’s murderers must be brought to justice so that sea turtle activists around Costa Rica and the world know that this will never be tolerated,” said Todd Steiner, a wildlife biologist and executive director of SeaTurtles.org. “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.”

Mora worked as a beach monitor for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network, WIDECAST, a network of biologists, wildlife managers, community leaders and educators with members in more than 40 nations.

As a result of Mora’s murder, WIDECAST has closed its sea turtle monitoring program despite observing an increase in sea turtle poaching. In fact, conservation groups say that on the night of the attack, there was an intensified police and Coast Guard presence in response to the rise in poaching.

Poaching is a leading factor driving sea turtles toward extinction. As a result, sea turtles, including the leatherback sea turtles that nest on the beach Mora monitored, are legally protected by Costa Rica’s Marine Turtle Population Law of 2002 and by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“Jairo worked bravely and tirelessly to protect countless precious lives,” said Jaclyn Lopez, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We can’t let cowardly criminals take down dedicated, selfless people like Jairo who’ve spent their lives defending the defenseless. Jairo’s assassins must be swiftly apprehended and tried.”

Wednesday morning Costa Rica’s Chief Prosecutor Jorge Chavarría said in a radio interview with Noticias Monumental that there are several suspects in Mora’s murder.

A four-part plan submitted by WIDECAST to the government of Costa Rica would put Moín Beach under the jurisdiction of park rangers with the power to arrest poachers. A new protected area on the Caribbean coast would be named after Mora.

The plan proposes an increase in penalties for poachers, the formation of a code of conduct for beach visitors in the entire country and the creation of a memorial fund in Mora’s name.

Environment Minister René Castro told the newspaper “Tico Times,” “We will be using the proposal submitted by WIDECAST in order to formulate a plan for the creation of a protected area where Jairo worked.”

Other conservationists warn that poaching and violence are happening in all the country’s coastal protected areas.

“Our emotional connection to each other, the sea turtles and their environment is what drives this work and makes Jairo’s death so heartbreaking, yet empowering,” said Wallace “J” Nichols, research associate at the California Academy of Sciences. “We all hope his death will somehow lead to more life.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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