Getting mad about turtle egg soup
In October, I visited my husband in Nicaragua for what turned out to be a disastrous weekend. We rented a beach house on the Pacific coast with three other couples and for at least one half of each couple, something went terribly wrong (although I admit I’m SO glad I went). For couple #1, an absurdly designed glass pane connected to the gas stove exploded and it’s amazing we didn’t have to take anyone to the hospital. Couple #2 ended up in a bedroom with a leaky roof and woke up to a cold, wet bed. My husband (part of couple #3) was stung by a stingray and was in pain for several hours. And couple #4 ended up having to leave their car behind because the road was too muddy to get out the last day. They couldn’t go back until almost a week later to get it. Plus all the rain delayed my flight and I missed my connection back in Miami.
But there was an additional calamity that we all shared. On the second night of our stay, the caretaker of the house told us that there were turtles laying eggs on the beach. We all went with her, using as little light as possible so we wouldn’t disturb or confuse the turtles. When we finally got to the turtle, she was big and beautiful. She was clearly tired from her journey up the beach and laying eggs. Now she was using all the energy she had to cover up the nest and try to make it blend in with the sand around it. A group of us followed her as she slowly, heave by heave, made it back to the shoreline and slipped into the dark waves.
A few of the people who stayed behind near the nest with the caretaker asked how long it would take for the eggs to hatch.
“Oh, the eggs have already been taken,” the caretaker said. “The guys were here earlier and all the eggs are gone.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” someone in our group asked.
“Well, they shouldn’t gather eggs during November or December. But in October it’s ok.”
“And do people respect that?”
“Generally they do, or they just take half.”
When I heard this I felt sick. After seeing that turtle struggle back to the ocean, exhausted, I wondered if she knew that it was all for nothing. Or if she felt satisfied, blissfully unaware that her eggs would never hatch but instead be eaten in a Sunday soup. Who knows what turtles feel. But our whole group felt awful and mad. I became aware of the men walking around the beach with flashlights, presumably looking for other nests. I wanted to call the police or go yell at these guys and tell them how wrong they were. But we all felt helpless and returned to our house, depressed.
For several weeks after returning from Nicaragua, I had turtles on my mind. I thought back to when I lived in Nicaragua in 2002 and was offered to buy turtle eggs on the beach near Pochomil. No, I didn’t buy them. But looking through my old photos, I found a picture of the woman I was traveling with that day holding a bag of freshly purchased eggs.
It wasn’t illegal back then. According to this article, eating sea turtle eggs has been illegal in Nicaragua since 2005. And I haven’t found anything that says that it’s only illegal in November and December.
Fortunately, there are several groups working to protect turtles in Nicaragua, including the Nicaraguan Army and Navy.
Fauna & Flora International, along with other organizations, runs a campaign called Yo no como huevos de Tortuga (I don’t eat turtle eggs). They work on both the supply and the demand side of the equation. Part of the problem is that people collecting the eggs are poor and poaching turtle eggs brings in extra income. Fauna & Flora International works with communities to find alternative sources of income. USAID in Nicaragua supports hatcheries as well as informational campaigns and trainings in local communities to improve conservation and protection efforts.
I always knew turtle egg poaching was a problem, and obviously didn’t support it. But it wasn’t until I saw that mother turtle return to the waves with her eggs stolen that I actually got mad about it. There’s only so much I can do about it from DC. But this year when deciding how to distribute my CFC pledges, I chose to support a conservation organization that works with endangered turtles. It’s not something I had ever thought of supporting before this year. But I guess sometimes it takes having a personal connection, and possibly getting mad, to donate, volunteer, or actually do something about a problem you always knew about, but never really went out of your way to involve yourself in.
What cause have you encountered this year that has motivated you?
Hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful start to 2012.