Mexico is to increase protection for its sea turtle population after about 80 were found slaughtered. The remains of the Olive Ridley turtles were found – in the middle of nesting season – on Escobilla beach in the southern Oaxaca state last weekend.
Poachers are thought to have killed the turtles for their eggs, which are renowned locally as an aphrodisiac.
The area is one of the most important nesting grounds for the turtle in Mexico, say local environmentalists.
The poachers left behind valuable turtle meat weighing 1,800lb (800kg), and carcasses were visible over the beach and shoreline.
“They killed them with blows to the head and machetes. It is very brutal, the beach would have been covered in blood,” said Homero Aridjis, one of Mexico’s leading environmental campaigners.
In response to the killings, the government sent two navy boats to the area to patrol off the beach.
The environment department described the attacks an “act of vandalism” and pledged to work closely with the navy to prevent further killings.
The Olive Ridley sea turtles have been protected under Mexican law since 1990 with a penalty of up to nine years in jail for anyone caught killing or capturing them.
The eggs of the turtles are often eaten raw with salt and lemon and can be bought for less than 10 US cents each, says Mr Aridjis.
The turtle is the smallest species of sea turtle in the world and has grown in number thanks to the anti-poaching actions of countries such as Mexico.
International efforts to prevent them being captured accidentally by fishing nets have also helped numbers.