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Saving Sea Turtles

2002-3-28

This is the VOA SpecialEnglish ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Environmental groups in the United States are leading a campaignto save thousands of endangered sea turtles. They have asked PopeJohn Paul the Second to ban turtle meat during the Christianreligious observance known as Lent. Christians observe Lent inpreparation for the holiday of Easter.

Environmental groups say illegal turtle hunting is one of themajor threats to endangered sea turtles in southern California andMexico. It has been illegal to harvest and eat sea turtle meat inMexico for more than ten years. However, demand for sea turtle meatis widespread in both Southern California and Mexico. Biologistsbelieve that illegal hunting is one of the main reasons for thesharp drop in sea turtle populations during the past thirty years.

The week before Easter Sunday isan especially deadly time for the turtles. As many as five-thousandturtles are killed during this time each year.

Many Mexicans and Mexican Americans eat turtle meat during thedays before Easter. Many people do not eat meat during this holytime in order to obey the rules of Lent. Because sea turtles swim,many people consider them to be fish. Fish is permitted during Lent.

The Sea Turtle Conservation Network is a coalition of fishermen,environmental activists and researchers. They sent a letter to PopeJohn Paul. They urged the Roman Catholic Church leader to officiallydeclare that sea turtle flesh is meat, not fish or seafood. They saythousands of these endangered animals would be saved if people didnot eat them during this religious period. The letter also askedmembers of the Catholic Church to obey laws banning the capture ofturtles in Mexico and the United States.

About thirty-five-thousand endangered sea turtles are killedillegally near the coasts of Baja, California, each year. Studieshave shown a sharp drop in the numbers of females. They travel fromas far away as Japan to lay their eggs on local beaches.

Environmental activists say hunting sea turtles for their meat isthe main barrier to the recovery of the species. They have urged thegovernments of the United States and Mexico to improve enforcementof the ban on sea turtle harvesting.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written byCynthia Kirk.