Caution, there are terrible descriptions to be read here and there are pictures in the Photo Albums to the right titled Death of The Turtles. Why would I publish this information on a cruising blog site, which is supposed to tell about the romance of the sea and out of the way places? Because this is the reality. And the reality is, the U.S. taxpayers throw large amounts of money to support environmental protection in other countries. That is money enthusiastically received but nothing is gained from it. In the name of conservation, maybe this exposure will prompt the people in Washington, DC to stop throwing money at these island nations and who squander the money for everything except the purpose for which it was intended.
Throughout the Pacific and Caribbean, island nations have turtle conservation laws but most islanders are far removed from any national enforcement. These remote villagers live off their own labors of raising crops, pigs, catching fish and turtles. Reef fish and turtles are becoming a very scarce commodity.
Pacific, island nations like Palau, the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia are Trust Territories of the U.S. . That means these countries receive thousands of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars every year simply because the U.S. defeated Japan in World War 2. It is also a way of buying votes in the United Nations. The Environmental Protection Agencies in these countries are well funded by U.S. dollars. Money is also received from Australia and New Zealand. In the capital cities of these small Pacific island nations, there is a marine conservation office but when it comes to turtles, there is an office with a sign on the door and people sitting at a desk to collect their pay checks, and that is it.
One of the most egregious turtle encounters I witnessed took place in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands. A well known politician passed away. It is custom for a high ranking official to have food, including turtle, served at his burial ceremony. To fulfill this requirement, an open boat with a 40 horsepower outboard, was dispatched to a nearby atoll where sea turtles were nesting. Two huge female turtles and one smaller turtle was grabbed. Riding upside down on the long pounding ride back to Majuro, the two larger turtles had holes worn through their shells to expose flesh inside of their broken backs. Late in the day, the 3 turtles were dumped into a concrete tank near the Outer Island Fish Market Center dock. From the top of the tank to the seawater level is a drop of about 8 feet depending on the tide level. The two largest turtles were spewing eggs everywhere. The next morning, before I could take a picture of the 3 turtles in the tank, the 2 largest turtles had been removed. I did get a picture of the smaller turtle in the holding tank which was littered on the bottom with turtle eggs. At other times, I have witnessed at the Robert Rhimer Enterprises floating dock, turtles being offloaded from fishing boats then thrown into the back of a pickup truck to be hauled away.
I went to the Department of Environmental Management and spoke with a lady conservation officer and her male counterpart. I asked if there were laws against taking sea turtles. She responded that it was illegal to take sea turtles at any time of the year. "Do you enforce those laws?" I asked. Sheepishly, she said no. Then she gave an example of when she was working in marine conservation in Palau, they found their own marine patrols were taking sea turtles using conservation boats while on duty. So, rather than enforcement, they tried to educate people why not to take sea turtles. And that is the odd, illogical thinking pervasive in the U.S. associated islands, especially in government offices of the Marshall Islands. Hopefully this blog entry may encourage the proper U.S. authorities to cut funding to the Marshall Islands and encourage a closer look at how U.S. dollars are spent in the other Trust Territories.
Although the Marshall Islands is supposed to be respecting copyright laws, in the capital of Majuro, bootleg DVD stores do a brisk business. On the shelf I found a DVD titled "Tortuga," made in conjunction with the Austrian Film Institute and Save Our Seas Foundation. It is an incredibly well done documentary following baby Hawksbill turtles as they leave the Atlantic beaches of Florida and return 21 years later. I gave two copies of this DVD to the "conservation" officers in Majuro in hopes they can educate themselves and others. I secured many more copies of the same DVD and hand them to remote village school teachers and anyone else who is interested in learning about their environment. Hopefully, at the least, the DVD will help encourage those taking turtles illegally to allow the female turtles to lay their eggs unmolested.
The turtle pictures for this blog were taken on an uninhabited atoll, in the month of February, somewhere in the Pacific. I do not want to betray the fishermen's trust in me by exposing just where these pictures were taken. These men come from another atoll, 40 miles away, to catch and dry fish and collect as many turtles as possible. Because of over fishing, there is not much left on the reefs of their own home atoll. They were catching an averag 2 turtles a day and there was no concern if they were male turtles or females loaded with eggs. When cleaning the turtles, eggs were put in jars of vinegar and salt which would preserve them for several weeks. Turtle meat, uncooked, was cut into thin strips and dried in the sun. Fresh turtle meat, cooked, taste like prime rib or at least a very nice pork chop.
This is a lame blog site. Captions cannot be attached to images in the folders to the right. Nor can I arrange the folders to appear in a preferred order in the window to the right. You must open the entire section then select the Turtle folder. Because of this, I will give the capturing and cleaning process here.
To capture a turtle in the water, a 15 foot long wood shaft mounted with a detachable barbed spear head is set on the end. From the bow of an 18' open boat, the spearman would thrust the spear into the neck of an unsuspecting turtle resting on the surface. Sometimes, turtles resting on the shallow lagoon bottom would wake to the same spear head penetrating their neck, jammed their by a turtle man outfitted with swim mask and fins. The breakaway spear head is connected to a long thin line with a large plastic float on the opposite end. Once speared, the turtle has no hope of escape.
Generally, the turtles are dead or near dead by the time the boat returns to the fishermen's camp. The most dead turtle is processed first. First the fins are cut from the turtle. A fire is then set on the stomach of the upturned turtle for 15 minutes. This is not to cook anything but to soften the underbelly so that portion of the shell is easier cut away with a knife. But the fins are placed in the fire so they will be roasted and soon eaten by the hungry fishermen who have been out all day in the hot sun.
The charred turtle is dragged into the ocean to cool it and wash away ash and debris. Back on the beach, the underside is cut away with a knife to expose the insides of the turtle. Nothing inside the turtle goes to waste. The intestines are evacuated and washed in sea water. Even the head is dried. Once all the large objects are removed from the shell, two women begin slicing the raw meat into thin strips. The turtlemen then gather around to scrape and scoop what remains from the shell for their own immediate consumption. Cooked taro root is dropped into the soupy liquid to help soak up the juices and add to the meal. The turtle shell is discarded.
Now that we are in the island of Palau, we will work on a little happier blog for a new entry.
01/21/2014, Uraparapara, Vanuatu
We are preparing to leave the island of Pohnpei where there is a jet airport, shops a hospital and internet. It could take weeks or months to reach the next destination of Palau depending on what remote stops we choose along the way. Before departing, I wanted to throw up this overlooked blog from Vanuatu.
What's In Those Eggs
Wrapped in the villagers dirty cloth sack were 17 eggs. From his canoe, he gently handed the sack up to us on Brick House. For better protection, we placed each egg in our empty paper egg carton and the remainder in a plastic container. We had to smile at the cultural misinterpretation.
We had sailed our 40' boat to Uraparapara, one of the most remote islands in northern Vanuatu. Many decades ago, the villagers stopped wearing grass clothes but today they do rely on trading with the occasional supply boat which brings cotton garments, factory made food and modern technology, like flashlights. For those supply boats, the natives currency is burlap sacks of dried coconut meat, copra, in exchange for the items they need and at times the supply boat gives them a small surplus of paper Vatu money to hide under their mat. This village had not seen a supply boat for over 6 months and it could easily be another 6 months before one came. Villagers in all these outer islands see visiting yachts as supply vessels and their crew as technicians who might be able to repair anything from an old flashlight to a broken solar yard light.
One more native paddled his outrigger canoe and cozied up alongside our anchored boat. He needed 3 D-size batteries. Even if he was willing to pay us for the batteries, his Vatu money would be useless to us in island nations we would be soon visiting to the north. We already had all the coconuts, yams, taro and cassava we needed to cross two oceans. We could use eggs. "Give us 6 eggs for 1 battery."
Islanders throughout the Pacific have little use for chicken eggs. It is an American custom to scramble or hard boil eggs. When asking a villager if they eat eggs, they generally say "No, I wouldn't know where to find eggs. The chicken does not tell me where she hid them." But we do often trade for chicken eggs sending a villager on an egg hunt. We have always received what we expected, although not as many as we needed.
So when we spread the contents of the sack, we realized we, in this remote village, were presumptuous to narrowly think chicken eggs. The variation in size, shape and color made us wonder if the assortment included crocodile, turtle and who knows what sorts of eggs. Nor were we specific in dictating the lack of incubation. But we gave the man 3 new batteries to put in the flashlight I had repaired for another villager the previous day.
To avoid an unpleasant surprise package, we could not simply hard boil the eggs or crack them into a common bowl. In the end, we did have our omelets. Yet, not having on board a Bass-O-Matic, half of those opened eggs, which had a range of colors, textures and definable hardnesses, were tossed into the ocean.
Much of our food that sailed us across the Pacific has come from villagers. But this egg trade will always be in our memories as one more adventure in the Pacific.