Indigenous Wayuu people from Columbia are voluntarily dropping their age-old tradition of eating turtle meat for their main protein source because the reptiles are dying out.
“This really is rejecting the culture of my ancestors,” 72-year-old Olegario Choles told AFP. “I grew up eating turtle, and raised my kids on the money I make hunting them.
“But now the turtles are scarcer and scarcer. The nets come back empty,” he said.
“The time has come to save them, in order to save ourselves,” conceded Choles, the leader of the Wayuu, one of the poorest regions in South America.
Choles watched as a group of local children released 200 Caguama turtles, also known as Caretta or Loggerhead sea turtles. The mass release took place as a result of months of negotiations by hunters, restaurant owners and cooks who all agreed it was time to take turtle meat and eggs off restaurant and home menus.
Lina Baez, an environment analyst at the coal concern Cerrejon said “the Wayuu eat the meat of almost all the animals in the area, yet changing their customs is a major effort and requires reaching deals with them.”
Baez said turtle catchers, who agree to stop catching the sea turtles, are offered compensation of about half what they would get for selling turtles to local restaurants. In addition, funds are channelled to programs that benefit their communities, such as helping schools or libraries.
Environmental groups have been supportive. “It is really moving to see former turtle hunters and their children working to safeguard a nesting place for an adult so that she can lay her eggs and the hatchlings can make it out to sea,” said Maria Claudia Diazgranados.