An appetite for the truth: why do people eat turtle eggs?

Recently, for the second time in my life, I visited the United States to attend the International Sea Turtle Symposium. However, this was the first time that I presented the work we do in Nicaragua in English, which is not my first language.

It’s true that I have many limitations in my English speaking ability, but those limitations were not a barrier to my ability to share the results of an evaluation conducted by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in conjunction with ten other partner organisations of the sale of illegal sea turtle products on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua.

I must admit that it took a lot of personal strength to get up in front of that audience and make the presentation, nevertheless I was very excited and proud to be the one who had the opportunity to discuss the efforts of 40 young volunteers and of the synergies achieved by FFI-Nicaragua and our partners.

Turtle team. Credit: FFI.

A team of hard-working volunteers interviewed over a thousand people to find out who is really eating turtle eggs, and why. Credit: FFI.

It was gratifying to be the person on stage during the short 10 minute presentation, explaining that in Nicaragua we want things to change and we can change them – day by day, the future generations are taking part and changing despite the various difficulties and obstacles.

Future generations. Credit: FFI.

FFI’s team in Nicaragua has helped to get many young people excited about sea turtle conservation. Credit: FFI.

To be that person representing our efforts in Nicaragua has given me greater enthusiasm in my work and my new personal challenges, because at FFI we put great importance on the conservation of marine turtles, but we also place importance on the people.

Breaking the myth

As part of the work completed by our project, I want to share some of the results. In the past, in Nicaragua, the myth has been spread that turtle eggs are aphrodisiacs that generate incomparable sexual potency. It is this belief that triggered the consumption in all parts of society in our country, and the family has inherited this custom generation after generation.

A female turtle lays her eggs.Credit: FFI.

A female turtle lays her eggs.Credit: FFI.

But really, is this why Nicaraguans are consuming turtle eggs? Fauna & Flora International’s study along the Pacific coast of Nicaragua together with our partners set out to determine just that. We asked 1,166 people “Have you eaten turtle eggs?” and 242 women and 424 men responded yes, they had consumed turtle eggs.

The most interesting part of this study was that the people who answered yes to the previous question were then asked “Why do you eat turtle eggs?” Only 7% of the respondents said that it was for the aphrodisiacal attributes. 36% said it was because they liked the taste of the eggs, 31% said it was for nutritional value, and 14% because it was traditional food. This finding either contradicts the myth or the respondents were embarrassed to admit that they were consuming the eggs for that purpose.

Conducting interviews. Credit: FFI.

The survey results indicate that the ‘turtle eggs are an aphrodisiac’ myth may at last be breaking down. Credit: FFI.

Broken down by gender, 44% of women consumed the eggs for taste preference and only 2% of women said they were consumed as an aphrodisiac. In the case of men, 32% said that it was for taste and 9% for an aphrodisiac. This signifies that we can and are changing course and breaking with the myth. Even if it is little by little, the next generations will change as we continue to provide greater environmental education.