Eating Sea Turtle in the Caribbean
Would you eat sea turtle? That was the question I asked myself frequently for a couple of months prior to visiting the Cayman Islands. In researching the Cayman Turtle Center on Grand Cayman as a potential stop during my visit, I came to realize that sea turtle is actually a food traditionally eaten in the islands. The practice seems to be declining, but it can still be found easily in restaurants. At first thought, it seemed wrong. However, I try to be open minded about cultural differences in food. I know that animals and insects are eaten around the world that I would never dream of eating at home and I don’t ever want cultural bias to stop me from connecting with others. And what better way to connect than with food!
At the Cayman Turtle Center, visitors can get up close to, and even swim with, the beautiful creatures. I don’t think they advertise this fact very well (probably for obvious reasons), but another purpose of the Turtle Center is to provide turtle meat to the locals so that it is not poached from the ocean. They also hatch and release turtles back into the wild each year and participate in other research and conservation efforts.
Sea turtles have been a big part of the Caymanian identity and culture for the last few centuries. Their flag features a sea turtle and their passport stamp is even a peg-legged, turtle pirate!
After checking my bias and understanding the efforts made to protect the wild sea turtle population, I ultimately decided to partake in the local cuisine and try a tiny bit of sea turtle. When in Rome…! It was prepared blackened and ended up being quite delicious (meaty, not fishy). I don’t know that I will ever eat it again, but I am glad for the experience and thankful for the efforts of the Cayman Turtle Center to protect the species.