State police and the Oaxaca Attorney General’s Office have seized 25,000 sea turtle eggs in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Attorney General Rubén Vasconcelos reported that a man was arrested with the eggs after blowing through a checkpoint on the Salina Cruz-La Ventosa highway on Wednesday afternoon.
The turtle eggs were stored in 50 black plastic garbage bags which were hidden under tarps in the back of a pickup truck.
The man tried to drive past the checkpoint without stopping, and when a chase ensued he abandoned the vehicle by the side of the road and attempted to flee into the brush where he was caught by authorities.
Initial reports indicate that the turtle eggs were to be transported to Mexico City and sold to a buyer who authorities say is already being tracked.
Sea turtles and their eggs are endangered and heavily protected under Mexican law, and the trafficker could face a hefty fine of 300,000 pesos or around US $13,327 and up to nine years in prison for illegally collecting the eggs.
Although the sale of turtle eggs has been banned since 1990, in some places it still occurs, especially in the area where the man was arrested, on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast.
In Juchitán de Zaragoza, residents continue selling and eating turtle eggs and the government turns a blind eye as long as the commerce stays local.
The area is home to six of the world’s seven sea turtle species that come ashore to lay their eggs, most notably the olive ridley sea turtle which can grow to up to 70 kilos. The beaches at La Escobilla, Barra de la Cruz and Morro Ayuta are some of the world’s most important nesting sites for many species.
Turtle protection activists in the region say that the theft of turtle eggs has actually increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sergio Ordaz, who runs a turtle protection program in Colotepec, Oaxaca, where nests are corralled off and monitored, says “the looting of turtle eggs has increased. The killings have returned; they take the turtles from the nesting pen.”
Profepa announced on July 1 that 2.28 million turtles had arrived on Oaxaca beaches during the 2019-2020 season.
CORRECTION: The earlier version of this story said Profepa had monitored the laying of 2.28 million turtle eggs. In fact, that was the number of turtles that arrived during the season.