are seven species of sea turtle that have swum in the waters
of our planet since the time of the dinosaurs. These creatures
have successfully survived natural disasters, predators and
other threats for millions of years.
Now, human activity appears to be a problem they cannot surmount.
Multitudes of sea turtles are killed each year. Their shell
is used to manufacture expensive artifacts that can be sold
to tourists. Their meat is eaten as a luxury product, and
their blood and eggs are considered to have special medicinal
properties when consumed. Unfortunately, many communities
along the Mediterranean Sea, or other coastal areas frequented
by turtles, are involved in the illegal exploitation of turtles
either knowingly or unwittingly.
Historically indigenous peoples harvested sea turtles in small
numbers, however the versatility of turtles as a commodity
combined with their utter defenselessness has turned a sustainable
hunting practice into a destructive commercial enterprise
that has, combined with other threats, left all seven species
of sea turtle endangered.
turtle slaughtered for its meat on the beaches of Boavista Island
(Photo: Daniel Cejudo, Proyecto Cabo Verde Natura)
Uses of Sea Turtle Parts
Fatty tissues are processed to make oil and creams. These
tissues were historically used to produce oil for lamps, boat varnish,
and cosmetics. Currently vials of turtle oil are marketed as medicines
or for use as an aphrodisiac.
Blood: In some cultures sea turtle blood is used as a cure for anemia
and taken to promote fertility.
Eggs are sold as a delicacy and touted to promote longevity and
Shells of Hawksbill turtles are used as material for various artifacts.
Whole shells are varnished and sold as decoration or individual
scales can be molded into jewelry, or used as decoration on any
number of objects
Meat from turtles is traditionally eaten in many cultures or served
as a delicacy to tourists.
to Green Turtles
Green Turtle has been subject to exploitation since the 1600s
when British colonists first arrived Jamaica and Bermuda. Turtle
meat was imported from the Cayman Islands and soon became a
staple food. On long sea voyages turtles also provided a continuous
supply of fresh meat, as they were easy to keep alive on board
until they were needed for sustenance.
Laws preventing the exploitation have been recorded as early
as 1620 when settlers first began to notice the significant
decline in Green Turtle populations. These laws proved to be
unenforceable however, and by the 20th century there was high
demand internationally for nearly every part of the Green Turtle’s
body and shell.
the world, Green Turtle eggs and meat are considered a gourmet
food, the shells can be carved into ornaments and jewelry,
and the skin is tanned into leather. In some markets one can
even find entire baby turtles that have been stuffed and sold
records show that at the beginning of the 20th century it
was normal to catch Green Turtles weighing nearly 1,000 pounds,
however the continual exploitation of these turtles has literally
caused them to shrink. Today, a 300-pound Green Turtle would
be considered abnormally large.
the Green Turtle is internationally recognized as a threatened
species certain countries still allow the slaughter or importation
of Green Turtle products for economic or cultural reasons.
Other places lack the resources to effectively enforce turtle
protection legislation. For these reasons, a large black market
for Green Turtle products still exists worldwide which draws
in local participation with the promise of a significantly
higher income than that which could be earned simply by fishing
or other endevors.
to Hawksbill Turtles
Turtles are most famous for their beautiful shells, which
are turned into jewelry, eyeglass frames and other trinkets.
Entire turtles have also been found stuffed and sold as wall
hangings. Although steps have been taken to prevent the international
trafficking of Hawksbill shells, a large underground market
still exists and some countries, most notably Japan, still
openly permit the sale of Hawksbill shell artifacts.
to Olive Ridley Turtles
Ridley Turtles find themselves particularly at risk due to
their nesting practices. While most other turtles nest individually,
Olive Ridleys take part in mass nesting where thousands of
females congregate on the same beach on a certain night. As
a result, they become easy targets for poachers, who can collect
many turtles and eggs in the same night.
Hawksbill Turtle is butchered in the Gulf of Venezuela (Photo:
Hector Barrios-Garrido. Grupo de Trabajo en Tortugas Marinas
del Golfo de Venezuela)
man was particularly infamous for his role in the exploitation
of Olive Ridleys in Mexico. Antonio Suarez ran a number of
plants that processed Olive Ridleys for international sale.
In 1978 alone, one of these plants processed over 50,000 Ridleys,
90% of which had been collected during nesting. In 1980, Suarez
was involved in a failed attempt to smuggle roughly 106,000
pounds of Olive Ridley meat into the US, which was estimated
to have come from 8,800 turtles.
Despite his indictment for smuggling, Suarez still owned and
operated 3 slaughterhouses as late as 1990.
Suarez’s and other similar large-scale operations had
a devastating effect on the Olive Ridley population that may
prove to be irreversible. Today, there is still a significant
amount of black market activity involving Olive Ridley Turtles,
although large-scale slaughtering operations have been largely
dead Olive Ridley cut open for eggs on the Pacific Coast of
Guatemala (Photo: Rachel Brittain)
to Kemp Ridley Turtles
Although at one time Kemp
Ridley Turtles were common throughout the Caribbean, by the
1940s, nesting activity was only seen on one beach in northeastern
Mexico. Even then, one mast nesting on this beach was estimated
to have included 40,000 female turtles. Several years later,
after the continued unchecked harvesting of females during
nesting, only 500 nests were recorded. Research shows that
in recent years the Kemp Ridley population has begun to increase
again, but existing Kemp Ridleys are still vulnerable to the
types of exploitation that affect all sea turtles.
||A rare Kemp Ridley nesting at Padre Island
(Photo: Cynthia Rubio)
to Loggerhead Turtles
Despite significant efforts
to conserve Loggerhead Turtle populations worldwide these
turtles are especially vulnerable to the destructive impacts
of fishing as well as black market activities. Due to their
unwieldy size, it is easy for them to become entangled in
drift nets and long fishing lines, which can wrap tightly
enough to injure or kill the turtle. Loggerhead nesting
beaches in the Mediterranean are particularly vulnerable
to development for tourism, which discourages the females
from leaving the water to nest. Loggerhead shells are also
particularly coveted for their ornamental value.
carapaces put out for sale in Mdiq Market, Morocco (Photo: Wafae
Benhardouze and Mustapha Aksissou)
to the Flat Back Turtle
Perhaps because their meat is considered distasteful,
the Flat Back Turtle appears to be less at risk than other
sea turtle species. Conservation efforts in Australia and
the surrounding islands (the only region where the Flat Back
is commonly found) have helped to protect nesting areas from
poaching activity although the harvesting of eggs has yet
to be eliminated.
Flat Back Turtle sighted early one morning on Barrow Island
(Photo: Jarrad Sherborne)
Leatherback Turtle, as the largest living species of sea turtle
is particularly valued for its meat and eggs. Egg harvesting
has been particularly problematic and has caused a significant
decline in population. Drift nets also pose a sever threat
to Leatherbacks as they are unable to escape drowning in them
once they become trapped.
in Oaxaca, Mexico takes eggs from a nesting Leatherback. (Photo:
In English and French
- www.cat.inist.fr ? Muséum
National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris / Congrès sur
le commerce et l’exploitation des animaux sauvages. Only in
Acknowledgement to Samantha Nier for her help with this webpage.