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  PlanetArk website, 11 Aug 05
Poachers Massacre Protected Turtles on Mexico Beach
Story by Alistair Bell

MEXICO CITY - Mexican poachers bludgeoned and chopped some 80 protected Olive Ridley sea turtles to death for their eggs, believed to be an aphrodisiac, and left their shells scattered on a Pacific beach. The carnage was discovered on Escobilla beach, Mexico's top nesting ground for the animals, in the state of Oaxaca last weekend, the government's environmental protection agency Profepa said on Tuesday.

"They killed them with blows to the head and machetes. It is very brutal, the beach would have been covered in blood," said leading environmental campaigner Homero Aridjis. The poachers did not bother to gather up turtle meat, a delicacy in parts of Mexico. Some 1,800 pounds (800 kg) of turtle flesh was found floating in the surf or strewn on the sand.

The navy has sent two ships to the area to step up protection of turtle nesting areas, the environmental agency said.

Killing or capturing Olive Ridley turtles has been banned in Mexico since 1990, with sentences of up to 9 years in prison, and the beach is normally well protected against poachers by the military.

The killing took place near the popular tourist resorts of Puerto Angel and Puerto Escondido, an international surfing magnet.

Turtle eggs, eaten raw with salt and lemon, can be bought in Oaxaca, one of the country's poorest states, for the equivalent of less than 10 US cents each, Aridjis said. "Local people eat the eggs in cantinas as snacks because the men think they are aphrodisiacs," he said.

The Olive Ridley is the smallest species of sea turtle. Turtles born on Escobilla beach return there years later to leave their eggs at night on dry sand between June and November. Up to 10,000 turtles at a time can crawl onto the sand in a nocturnal spectacle.

Ironically, the Olive Ridley is making a comeback. Record numbers spawned along the Pacific coast last year, thanks largely to stepped up protection against poachers.

International regulations aimed at preventing the accidental capture of turtles and other sea life in deadly fishing nets are also helping boost the population.

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