If a terrapin got me batting for the sea life team, seeing this sea turtle’s arm sold as meat in the market would certainly knock me off of my cool, calm ‘researcher’s’ pedestal. My immediate reaction (if ever there was any) was to think about how this extremely endangered species ended up being on sale in broad daylight. My second reaction however, is worrying about the toxins from eating an animal that lives for so long…
[Image from: Foxnews: “Acupuncture helps treat hypothermic sea turtles”]
Just this month, acupuncturists in Cape Cod, Northern united States, have been prescribing therapy for two sea turtles catching hypothermia in the changing weather. Our keenness for animal rescue, while in good intention somehow is laced with an anthropomorphic ‘cuteness’. Although this sentence sounds patronising, it’s quite the opposite. This behaviour of therapeutic rescues is simply more cultural than scientific.
In a conversation about possible protection rights for robots, Research Specialist at MIT Media Lab Kate Darling, argued that: we specifically protect some animals for the sake of our own societies rather than for the sake of the animals.
The marine turtle protection law works on a belief that saving turtle numbers relies on reducing human interaction with an individual animal. For example, Florida Statutes (F.A.C. Rule 68E-1) restrict the take, possession, disturbance, mutilation, destruction, selling, transference, molestation, and harassment of marine turtles, nests or eggs. It has solved the hunting and poaching for turtles but still struggles with the reduction of turtle nesting environments and maintaining clear zones for migration patterns. What if we consider interacting with turtles for the purpose of increasing their population?
[Video from: how2scuba. Turtle swim video : how to swim with turtles]
I love how the author, Peter Bucknell, uses a century old placebo trick:
“Never be tempted to touch a turtle, their shell has an invisible a film on that causes impotence in men and premature ageing in women”
I’ve been told that turtles taste like veal.
Cayman Turtle Farm is a controversial organisation set up back in 1968 under “Mariculture Limited” to increase the endangered green sea turtle population for meat consumption. (Similar to the theory that pigs would never go extinct because they are so intensely bred for commercial purposes.) The thinking was that not only would farming turtles save the wild population from over-harvesting, the added effort of human-raring baby hatchlings might actually contribute to the population. Over different clashes of opinions with environmentalists who worry that the commercial sales of turtles would incentivize people to illegally poaching them in the wild and releasing farmed species might infect wild species with unusual diseases, the farm was eventually bankrupted. Nowadays the enterprise has become somewhat of a conservation marine resort, which is proving to be a more costly, receiving CI$10 million (roughly US$12million) a year from the state to run. Although sightings of the green sea turtles have increased drastically on the islands in general, there hasn’t been very many farmed sea turtles found breeding in the wild:
With Sir Paul McCartney chomping at its heels, there’s nothing to speed up the closure of a commercially debatable and morally challenging turtle centre like celebrity endorsement.
This really isn’t a simple debate of a ‘hands-on’ or ‘hands-off’ approach to our effects on nature. One possible argument is that the arguments surrounding what to do with the sea turtles has increased our consciousness about this endangered species on the island, therefore increasing the wild population indirectly. The centre currently is promoting “the use of the word ‘encounter” -a world somewhere between adventure, entertainment and interaction.
I’d love to maintain the possibility that perhaps integrating this endangered animal in our commercial productivity is a possible way of allowing it to evolve in our industrial world, a preferred prospect than shutting it off in a nostalgic sanctuary of artificial conservation… but that’s another conversation.
Another debate is how we feel about cruelty towards individual animals when we have increased the whole population. Would turtles have been as well-treated if they weren’t endangered? I’m not so sure. Here’s the extinction of the giant tortoise from a TV series, QI: