The Legacy of Murdered Sea Turtle Conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval

Conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval (pictured) was murdered in Costa Rica on May 31. Photograph courtesy Christine Figgener, Baulas y Negras Ostional
Conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval (pictured) was murdered in Costa Rica on May 31. Photograph courtesy Christine Figgener, Baulas y Negras Ostional

By Brad Nahill, SEE Turtles

On Friday, May 31st, while returning from a long night walking a turtle nesting beach near the city of Limón, young Costa Rican conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval was abducted by unknown assailants, beaten, and murdered.

The beach where Mora Sandoval worked is a hot spot for nesting by the critically endangered leatherback, but also well-known for poaching and as a transfer point for drugs entering Costa Rica. This beach has now become a flash point for the direction that Costa Rica will go as a country.

(See “Costa Rican Murder Shines Light on Poaching, Drug Nexus“)

The brave young man had recently spoken out to the media and on social media about the lack of government support for the conservationists on this beach. With a Ministry of Environment tolerant of the illegal trade in sea turtle eggs, and without effective enforcement over a flourishing black market, efforts by local police and Coast Guard have routinely fallen short of what is needed to safeguard people working tirelessly to protect the nation’s natural treasures.

It was in this context that a small group of conservationists were left on their own against the poachers and drug runners. They had received threats, but never thought their work to protect endangered turtles would result in a tragedy like this.

I spent two years of my life walking Costa Rica’s turtle beaches. I know what it’s like to be in the dark, with little to defend yourself. I worked for the same organization that Jairo worked for, learning from Didiher Chacón, Country Coordinator and Director of Latin American Programs for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) and one of the country’s leading conservationists.

I never felt threatened on those beaches, but that experience was challenging enough, dealing with rain, insects, and more to make sure the nests were protected.

Costa Rica is known around the world as the place where ecotourism was born. The country has beautiful beaches, lush tropical forests, and the most species of wildlife per kilometer in the world according to some. Sea turtles are a main attraction, nesting on dozens of beaches on both coasts and attracting thousands of people each year to see them nesting.

Hundreds of people come to volunteer annually on these beaches without incident, spending their time, money, and sweat with the goal of contributing to the conservation of these incredible animals.

The volunteers and travelers that come to these beaches are critical, now more than ever, to the success of efforts to protect sea turtles in Costa Rica and around the world. The heavy lifting of turtle conservation work in Costa Rica is not done by the government. Instead, dozens of non-profit organizations toil long hours, for very little income, to make sure the eggs, meat, and shells are not collected for sale on the black market.

Jairo Mora Sandoval speaking with local children in Costa Rica.
Jairo Mora Sandoval speaking with local children. Photo: WIDECAST

Rarely do the police, Coast Guard, or rangers from the Ministry of the Environment walk the beaches or enforce the laws. Poachers are caught red-handed and go without prosecution. Fortunately, most of the country’s nesting beaches do not have the danger of Moin Beach and conservationists and volunteers can safely walk the beach without worry of danger.

When the government of Costa Rica spends millions of dollars to market itself as a wildlife paradise but next to nothing to protect that wildlife, will the volunteers and tourists still come? President Chinchilla must show the world that they will not stand silent when the people most dedicated to protecting the country’s natural resources are cut down for speaking out.

Jairo’s family – and his many friends and colleagues – will never be the same, but some good can come from this. The government can name Moin Beach a National Park in his honor, securing this beach for both the turtles and the conservationists and taking away an entry point for drugs.

Each of us who shares Jairo’s passion for biodiversity conservation work can help to ensure that the world never forgets his contribution to Costa Rica’s sea turtles.  For those who would like to help ensure Jairo’s legacy lives on, here are a few ways to participate:

Donate to the Jairo Mora Sandoval Memorial Fund: This money will be used to support his family, create a National Park in his honor, and continue his legacy. 100% of donations will go to the fund (no administrative fees will be taken) and the first $3,000 will be matched by WIDECAST, SEE Turtles, and EcoTeach. The Fund is managed by our partners The Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

Sign a Petition: Encourage Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla to ensure that the killers are caught and to ensure the safety of all of the country’s conservationists.

Are Costa Rica’s Beaches Safe? Blog post from SEE Turtles on whether traveling to Costa Rica to see sea turtles is safe for travelers.

Brad Nahill is Director & Co-Founder of SEE Turtles, which supports community-based sea turtle conservation organizations in Latin America through volunteering, ecotourism, education, advocacy, and financial support. To date, SEE Turtles has generated more than $400,000 in support for community-based turtle conservation projects through volunteering, tours, donations, and more. SEE Turtles is a project of The Ocean Foundation and is supported by National Geographic’s Conservation Trust.

  • Vernon Maldonado

    It goes without saying, obviously the Costa Rican government is on the take when it comes to wildlife protections otherwise they would be enforcing their laws and this man may not have been murdered. Too bad that all governments seem to be after the dollar rather than doing their job.


    God/ dess bless Jairo and the work he did, so very sad to hear of a caring and beautiful young soul murdered brutally… may his sacrifice not be in vain…The government of his beautiful country have to work effectively and intelligently on legislation to prosecute poachers and drug traffickers….to protect this extraordinary wildlife and the men and women who are protecting these animals along Costa Rica’s stunning coastlines….

  • pedro cordero a

    I saw my syster die in 1994. She was killed because she succeded to expell Stone Forestal papper company from Golfo Dulce, they said it was the narcs too, i don´t belived it. And that was never solved, it was left unpunished. I hope Jairo´s death brings the fire back so that justice is served for all ecologists killed for saving our mother PachaMama…

  • Juan Moreira

    Great article though you forgot one thing. DO NOT USE COCAINE!

  • abidalishah

    hi nice pics i like ocean turties

  • Bonnie Aman

    Save the sea turtles

  • Lil Apestegui

    Hi, I will like to know how will you be delivering the money to help Jairo´s family. I will like to help and I think that this first month is crucial, but I want to make sure the money will get to them. thanks!

  • leanne

    I have worked the beaches of greece protecting the nesting turtles eggs and hatchlings and have many friends who have worked these beaches in costa rica. This is a tragedy that should never have happened and the government of costa rica should work hard to ensure the safety of the people giving their time and money to help protect costa ricas wildlife. The safety of these conservationists should never have come in to question and should now be of paramount importance

  • Victor Rafael Fernandez Cox

    No coment, just get things done with common sense

  • anabelle

    Costa Rica necesita recuperar el rumbo que hace mucho tiempo perdio… Por favor, politicos, usteds fueron nombrados para cumplir una tarea por el bienestar del pais, no lo olviden !!! Si ustedes hubieran sido congruentes con su tarea, no estariamos lamentando la perdida de un inocente como Jairo, y muchos otros mas…

  • Karol

    Lamentablemente se perdió un gran luchador, esperamos que se haga justicia !!!

  • danielle paradise

    I had the honor to work with Jairo Mora Sandoval for a short time in the summer of 2010. Seeing his hard work and dedication in Gandoca was something I will never forget. I learned so much from him; and it is truly a tragedy that he’s gone.

  • Eloa

    Que descanse en paz, es muy lamentable las cosas que están sucediendo aquí en Limón, Pero lo que no dicen es que aquí hay muchos extrangeros que son los que han venido a influenciar a los jóvenes con su dinero debido a la escacés de trabajo que hay acá, y el dinero fácil por hacer casi cualquier cosa no los detiene de pensar en el daño que le causan a la sociedad, y a los seres queridos de éstas victimas de tales cosas.

  • Enrique Clunie

    The government of Laura Chinchilla has been against conservationists from the get go. That is why she went as far as persecuting Captain Paul Watson around the world. Moreover, the beach at Moin, where Jairo Mora was murdered, is under her goverment’s radar to develop an OIL REFINERY by partnering with the Chinese government. The last thing she’s want to hear is a national park named after our hero, Jairo Mora. Chinchill’as goverment has to be exposed before the world for what it is: CORRUPT and OBLIVIOUS.

  • Jorge V

    Please, don’t let people here in Costa Rica handle that money, they will probably steal it or will use it for “advices” on how to create a park, or will pay to someone to realize how to help Jairo’s family. This goverment sucks.

  • Ted Martin

    Costa Rica is not longer the safe place where I live in the 90’s. It is a pity that Costa Rica is taken by narcos and criminals. Last time I was there I was stolen by the taxi driver. I don’t think I will be back any time soon if the criminality continues with the high levels that it is now. Poor people.

  • Frank Alvarado

    I love my country but the situation here isn’t safely. Our president is not the correct person. We cannot trust in our president, she spends the most of our money in events, dinners and expensive trips.

  • Iris Tyler

    My heart is sad by this news, Rest in Peace Jairo Mora thank you for all your hard work and your passion to protect and preserve such of beautiful creatures. And for the Costa Rican government SHAME ON YOU! for not protecting him and all the others who’s mission is full of love, passion and concern to preserve the natural life of such of beautiful country, I have been away from my beloved Costa Rica for many years but its natural beauty is imprinted deep in my heart. Time for the President to stop ignoring this serious problem and act on it!

  • Allan Arostegui

    Grande Jairo,nunca te olvidaremos.

  • esteban

    Good Morning!
    Hi people:

    star for defense people… stop abort children , silence!
    But now the tortugle protection Jairo Mora page with your life.Sorry for family, for him !

    He is the firt men died for defense animal in Costa Rica,

    not people take concience ! page black for Costa Rica and especial Jairo family . Was narcotrafic? well this society more help rankin television the programs drugs,
    Yes the narco and every person put on televison o arms , or ilegal self egs tourtugles.
    This problem not born yesterday govertment Laura Chinchilla, this problems have many time. Who kill the Lisbet Badilla, family my woman ?!I dond know. But we continue double moral our God relacion have problems and you Help!

  • Brad Nahill

    Thanks to everyone for your comments. The Memorial Fund is being handled by a steering committee made up of several conservation organizations including ours. The money will go through WIDECAST, Jairo’s employer, and then directly to Jairo’s family and towards efforts to create a national park in his name. 100% of donations will go to the fund, no administrative costs will be taken out. Feel free to contact me at brad (at) seeturtles.org if you have any questions.

    -Brad Nahill (post author)

  • Mauro Corte

    Los conservacionistas de verdad , los independientes de las estructuras gubernamentales, los que dicen la verdad acerca de la naturaleza en Costa Rica….SON PERSEGUIDOS. Jairo Mora es un ejemplo de vida que murió asesinado por falta de ayuda.

  • Silvian Hogg

    Sadly, Jairo joins a list of environmentalists who have been murdered or threatened for protecting our natural resources, while the government (this and other administrations) have kept looking the other way. But, this administration has openly declared war on environmentalists, don’t be fooled by the official “peace with nature” propaganda. The Tourism Board promotes Costa Rica as a “green” destination for ecotourism, while the authorities are accommodating with those who infringe environmental laws. I deeply regret the loss of priceless lives protecting what we should all be defending. Jairo lives in each grain of sand of our beaches, in every leatherback that makes it to freedom, in each one of us who love nature.

  • Melanie Will

    May God REIGN Showers of Blessings on Jairo’s Passion for Sea Turtles……..& a Build a PARK in his HONOR !

  • Joni Gillis

    May God give comfort to the family of Jairo Sandoval. It breaks my heart to hear about the death of someone who was doing his best to be a good steward of this wonderful world God gave us. It is a tragedy what is happening in such a gorgeous country like Costa Rica and Mexico as well. Too many people in these countries do not appreciate the beautiful natural life they have nor care to preserve it. It is all about making money – greed. Man is capable of so much ugliness. May God have mercy on us.

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