By Nadav Soroker
OSTIONAL, Costa Rica — Early in the morning, while the sun is still struggling to rise over a low and verdant coast-scape, a cry on a bullhorn announcing the incoming arribada wavers back and forth down the road on a bicycle. Crews of community members troop onto Playa Ostional (Ostional beach) and get to work harvesting eggs among the incoming fleet of olive ridley sea turtles.
The workers of the Ostional Integral Development Association, locally known as ADIO, harvest the eggs to be distributed in town and sold across Costa Rica for consumption. The eggs can be made into omelets or used in ceviche or on pizza, but the most common way of eating them is in a shot with spicy salsa at a bar.
Swallowing down a shot of the two “huevos de tortuga” is a quick, spicy affair. The tomato salsa, flavored with a unique house blend to leave a hot, garlicky taste, is followed by two thicker, smooth gulps as the eggs slide down your throat. They are supposedly an ingredient for strength and potency, and a cerveza is an excellent chaser.
Not everyone enjoys the eggs; some describe the experience as similar to swallowing a gigantic booger.
Like the taste of the eggs, the tradition of eating them is contentious. Some conservationists object to any harvesting, and a popular chain email makes rounds worldwide decrying the practice. But field research by biologists at the Ministry of Environment and Energy suggests that the harvest is sustainable for the population.
Ostional has the only legal exception to a worldwide ban on turtle egg harvesting. When the harvesters are not working an arribada, they keep the beach free of trash and debris and have guards posted to make sure that turtle nests are not disturbed.
The locals of Ostional, though they take some of the turtle eggs, are also the ones protecting them and ensuring that their environment stays clear and safe. A local delicacy is the price paying for conservation.
Edited by Blake Nourie