Aguirre, A, SC Gardner, JC Marsh, SG Delgado, CJ Limpus, and WJ Nichols. 2006. Potential human health risks associated with the consumption of sea turtle meat and eggs: A global perspective. Submitted paper, 26th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, Island of Crete, Greece, April 2006.
POTENTIAL HUMAN HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH THE CONSUMPTION OF SEA TURTLE MEAT AND EGGS: A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
A. Alonso Aguirre1, Susan C. Gardner2, Jesse C. Marsh3, Stephen G. Delgado4, Colin J. Limpus5, and Wallace J. Nichols6
1 Wildlife Trust, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA
2 Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste, La Paza, Baja California Sur, Mexico 3 Monterey Bay Aquarium, California, USA
4 University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
5 Queensland Turtle Research, Capalaba, Qld, Australia
6 California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California, USA
Despite current international regulations, sea turtle products (e.g., meat, adipose tissue, organs, blood and eggs) remain common food items for many communities worldwide. The consumption of sea turtles, however, may have adverse human health effects due to the presence of bacteria, parasites, biotoxins and environmental contaminants. Reported health effects of consuming sea turtles or their eggs infected with zoonotic infectious agents include diarrhea, vomiting, and extreme dehydration, which in several occasions has resulted in hospitalization and death. Documented cases in the literature include an outbreak of gastroenteritis caused by Salmonella Chester affecting a coastal Aboriginal community lasting one week in Australia affecting 37 people. In Costa Rica, individuals have been hospitalized after the consumption of raw turtle eggs contaminated with Vibrio mimicus. Otherzoonotic agents found in sea turtles which may also represent a risk to human health include Escherichia coli and Cryptosporidium sp. Human fatalities and illnesses induced by poisoning from eating marine turtles have been reported throughout the Indo-Pacific region. Not every turtle is poisonous but when a toxic turtle occurs in the diet of a village it usually impacts groups of people including entire families with alarming effects. How individual turtles become toxic is not clear. It is generally believed that the toxin(s) originates in the invertebrate or algal food species of turtles. Similarly, the tissues within the turtle where the toxins accumulate have yet to be identified. To the best of our knowledge no studies have been performed correlating sea turtle organic contaminant or heavy metal levels, consumption of meat or eggs and risks to human health. Levels of cadmium in livers from stranded green turtles in Australia were up to three times higher than the levels reported in other sea turtles, fish, and crustaceans. The liver cadmium levels were found to be sufficiently high to warrant health concerns for indigenous people consuming green turtles in that part of the world. Both published data and anecdotal information suggest that the consumption of sea turtles can have negative effects on human health. Women and children in particular are most at risk of suffering from any adverse effects associated with sea turtle consumption. Although contaminant levels vary according to sea turtle species and location, recent research suggests that turtles in Baja California may have elevated contaminant levels, and their consumption is cause for concern. The health data presented in this review provide a compelling argument for the reduction of human consumption of sea turtles. Dissemination of this information may improve public health and simultaneously result in enhanced conservation of these endangered species.
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