Elsewhere in Costa Rica , harvesting turtle eggs is illegal and usually occurs only in the dead of night. At Ostional National Wildlife Refuge  it occurs legally and by daylight. The seeming rape of the endangered ridley—called lora locally—is the pith of a bold conservation program that aims to help the turtles by allowing the local community to commercially harvest eggs in a rational manner.
Costa Rica outlawed the taking of turtle eggs nationwide in 1966. But egg poaching is a time-honored tradition. The coming of the first arribada to Ostional in 1961 was a bonanza to the people. Their village became the major source of turtle eggs in Costa Rica. Coatis, coyotes, raccoons, and other egg-hungry marauders take a heavy toll on the tasty eggs, too.
Ridley turtles have thus hit on a formula for outwitting their predators — or at least of surviving despite them: They deposit millions of eggs at a time (in any one season, 30 million eggs might be laid at Ostional).
Ironically, the most efficient scourge are the turtles themselves. Since Ostional beach is literally covered with thousands of turtles, the eggs laid during the first days of an arribada are often dug up by turtles arriving later. Often, a second arribada occurs before the eggs can hatch. Again the beach is covered with crawling reptiles. As the newcomers dig, many inadvertently excavate and destroy the eggs laid by their predecessors and the beach becomes strewn with rotting embryos.
Even without human interference, only 1 percent to 8 percent of eggs in a given arribada will hatch. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of adult ridleys are killed at sea for meat and to make “shoes for Italian pimps,” in the words of the late author and turtle advocate Archie Carr.
By the early 1970s, the turtle population seemed to be below the minimum required to maintain the species. After a decade of study, scientists concluded that uncontrolled poaching of eggs would ultimately exterminate the nesting colony. They also reasoned that a controlled harvest would actually rejuvenate the turtle population. Such a harvest during the first two nights of an arribada would improve hatch rates at Ostional by reducing the number of broken eggs and crowded conditions that together create a spawning ground for bacteria and fungi that prevent the development of embryos.
In 1987, the Costa Rican Congress finally approved a management plan that would legalize egg harvesting at Ostional. The statute that universally prohibited egg harvesting was reformed to permit the residents of Ostional  to take and sell turtle eggs. The unique legal right to harvest eggs is vested in members of the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Ostional (ADIO).
The University of Costa Rica, which has maintained a biological research station at Ostional since 1980, is legally responsible for management and review. A quota is established for each arribada. Sometimes, no eggs are harvested; in the dry season (Dec.–May), as many as 35 percent of eggs may be taken; when the beach is hotter than Hades, the embryos become dehydrated, and the hatching rate falls below 1 percent.
The idea is to save eggs that would be broken anyway or that otherwise have a low expectation of hatching. By law, eggs may be taken only during the first 36 hours of an arribada. After that, the villagers protect the nests from poachers and the hatchlings from ravenous beasts.
The eggs are dealt to distributors, who sell on a smaller scale at a contract-fixed price to bakers (which favor turtle eggs over those of hens; turtle eggs give dough greater “lift”) and bars, brothels, and street vendors who sell the eggs as aphrodisiacal bocas (snacks). Net revenues from the sale of eggs are divided between the community (80 percent) and the Ministry of Agriculture.
ADIO distributes 70 percent of its share among association members as payment for their labors, and 30 percent to the Sea Turtle Project and communal projects. ADIO also pays the biologists’ salaries. Profits have funded construction of a health center, a house for schoolteachers, the ADIO office, and a Sea Turtle Research Lab.
Scientists claim that the project also has the potential to stop the poaching of eggs on other beaches. It’s a matter of economics: Poachers have been undercut by cheaper eggs from Ostional. Studies also show that the turtle population has stabilized. Recent arribadas have increased in size, and hatch rates are up dramatically.
Alas, illegal fishing within the marine park boundaries kills hundreds of turtles each year.