Sea turtles are off the menu

2 minute read

These wondrous marine creatures can be a deadly delicacy.

As an incurable omnivore, your Back Page correspondent has consumed the flesh of a wide range of innocent critters, the most disgusting of which were dried ants bought from a street stall in Colombia.

What we have never tasted, however, is the reportedly sublimely delicious meat of the sea turtle. We are told it’s a bit like veal with a fishy back note flavour.  

However, thanks to a recent news report published by the Associated Press, we are never going to find out for ourselves.

To be fair, the opportunity was unlikely to ever present itself, but given that sea turtle meat has been linked to a mysterious and deadly foodborne illness called chelonitoxism that is quite the spoiler.

While the endangered marine creature is considered to be a delicacy among indigenous coastal communities from Africa to Asia to Australia, the predilection comes at a cost.

According to the media reports, nine people, including eight children, died and a further 78 were hospitalised on the Zanzibarian island of Pemba after eating sea turtle. 

And it’s not the first time this has happened. Back in 2021, also in the Tanzanian island province of Zanzibar, seven people also succumbed to poisoning linked to eating turtle meat, prompting the Tanzanian authorities to urge people to avoid the practice.  

Symptoms of turtle poisoning include gastrointestinal conditions such as nausea, vomiting and ulcers. Scarier still, there can also be neurological problems including weakness, paralysis, comas and, ultimately, death.

Intriguingly, although it is evident that chelonitoxism occurs as a result of eating sea turtle, scientists are at a loss to explain exactly why. 

A paper published in the journal, Toxicon, back in 2016, suggests the toxin could be linked to certain types of algae that the turtles eat, but it is by no means definitive. That means there is currently no antidote to the poison. Yikes!

So sea turtle is firmly off the Back Page menu. Ditto puffer fish. And bats and pangolins.

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