Today green sea turtles, like all other species of sea turtles, are federally protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. If you ate one, in the United States, you would be committing a felony.
Turtles are one of the most imperiled groups of animals
on the planet. Habitat loss is probably their biggest threat; when a wetland is drained, a field paved over, or a nesting beach overrun with condominiums, there is simply no space left for turtles. But harvesting too many for food
has played a key role in driving down turtle populations in this country and across the world. In fact, the market for turtle soup was so intensive, in the United States, that many of their turtle populations are still recoverin,g from trapping and harvesting, that occurred decades ago.
Turtle populations have an interesting survival strategy. Most young turtles and eggs are eaten by predators like raccoons, herons, and big fish
. This wasn’t historically a problem, because turtles that do survive to adulthood typically live for many, many years. They produce so many eggs over their lifetime that chances are good at least a few will survive long enough to replace their aging parents. The strategy works quite well as long as we don’t take the adult turtles out of the population—particularly the females—before they’ve had their many years of reproduction. That is why even individual turtles are so important.
Even if people are allowed to eat a few turtles every once in a while, there is another important reason why we may not want to: It’s not just bad for the turtles; it’s bad for us
. Remember how turtles can live for decades? Well, if that turtle is sitting in polluted water
, it is going to be absorbing and consuming contaminants for many years. This unfortunate habit has made the snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) a model organism for studying how pollutants persist in wetlands. For example, despite a ban, since 1979, on the manufacture of polychlorinated biphenyls, turtles in some areas, still have alarmingly high concentrations of PCBs, in their blood and their meat.
“The Rise and Fall of Turtle Soup”