Sea turtles

I remember thinking, “this pork has a lot of funny little bones.” When I asked which part it came from, the cook said, “flipper.”

And that was my first experience eating sea turtle.

I have only eaten it a handful of times and only in the communities where it is customary to eat what is served. It has been the traditional food for indigenous people since before time. The government regulates turtle catching in the communities (as best it can), mandating a certain size, number and sex are pulled from the sea.

hauling in the catch in Tasba

To keep turtle fresh, they are stored alive on their backs under the house. This gives them a shelf-life of about 6 days before they die and need to be eaten.

I spoke with an old turtle fisherman in Sandy Bay. He told me that his father and grandfather were turtle fisherman. Now he is too old to work the nets and bring in the catch. And it isn’t much of a catch nowadays. “It’s fah deh yong men,” he said. “Maybeh dem spen tree days in deh panga settin an haulin in deh nets. But now I see deh cach what dem bringin in an dem no hardly have nutin compair to what we was cachin.”

With their numbers are declining and the demand increasing, the toll is severely taxing on the population. See the Wildlife Conservation Society’s work in the Pearl Keys for more info.

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2 Responses to “Sea turtles”

  1. Ms Beauty Soul27 January, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    I’ve never tried turtle. Can’t wait to though.

  2. Durward Erminger5 December, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    There are five species of sea turtle found in the world´s ocean. They are green, hawksbill, loggerhead, olive ridley, kemp´s ridley, and flatback (only found off Australia). The species referred to in this story is the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)which feeds exclusively on seagrass.

    The meat of the green looks and tastes much like veal or young beef. In the market, however, green sea turtle is usually sold as a mixture of different parts which includes flesh, liver, kidney, stomach, intestines, lungs, heart, callipee (bottom shell), and callipash (green-colored fat). The callipash is what gives the cooked turtle its distinctive greenish color. The callipee when properly prepared softens into a firm jelly-like texture.

    The head and the fins are generally sold separately. The blood is also sometimes collected (from the inverted shell during butchering), coagulated, then cooked down to remove most of the water until it becomes a thick mealy substance which is usually served over white rice.

    Turtle fin is prepared by first scorching the fin over a flaming cookfire. The hard outer skin is then scraped to remove and discard it from the fin. Next, the fin is boiled for several hours in a mixture of water and coconut milk which softens the glutinous skin and flesh causing it to virtually fall apart.

    While hunting and butchering greens by the Miskito Indians is legal and commonplace on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, I have never seen turtle eggs collected or consumed here. The Miskito Indians consider sea turtle hunting to be an integral part of their heritage! On the other hand, on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua hunting and butchering greens is illegal. There, however, raiding egg nests and hauling away ¨paslama¨ (turtle eggs) by the towsackfull is commonplace.

    The hawksbill turtle (Carreta carreta) is also commonly found in the waters off the Miskito Coast. While not considered particularly good eating, it does produce a beautiful and distintive shell which is used by Miskito artisans to produce jewelry, combs, and other items. These products are usually offered near the airports at Puerto Cabezas and Waspam. Be forewarned, however, that these items come from animals which are internationally classified as endangered and cannot be legally taken into most countries!

    If you want to learn more about sea turtles, I recommend that you read So Excellent a Phish, and The Windward Road by Archie Carr, PhD. Also, if you want to find out what the days of commercial turtling were like off the Miskito Cays (off the coast from Puerto Cabezas) prior to its closure, read Far Tortuga by Peter Matthiessen.


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