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Winter 2005 - Act•ionLine

by Laurel Lundstrom | Winter 2005

Protecting A Species, But Disrespecting A Movement

It's an ancient ritual: Sea turtles have nested on earth's beaches for more than 100 million years. Each year, hundreds of thousands crawl ashore onto moonlit sands, lay their leathery eggs in nesting chambers, flipping the sand aside to create havens for their newborns. Resembling sand dunes, their shells create temporary mounds across the beach. After nesting for about three hours, the turtles lurch back into the water for another long journey at sea. Most only return years later to nest again on the same beach - long after their eggs have hatched and their babies have swum away.

But earlier this year, along the shores of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, a group of 80 Olive Ridley sea turtles and their offspring lost the opportunity to return to the sea. Oaxacan officials found the turtles slaughtered for their eggs, their 1800 pounds of flesh left festering on the beach. Although the Mexican government threatens poachers with up to nine years in prison, in this case- the warning proved ineffective.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), now recognized by 150 countries worldwide, protects all seven sea turtle species which swim the world's oceans from commercial trade; in 1978, Olive Ridleys were among the first turtle species to be classified as endangered by the treaty. 1 And since 1990, when the Mexican government first implemented a total ban on killing sea turtles, Mexico's Olive Ridley populations have actually stabilized. 2 Yet it is the eternal demand for products derived from sea turtles which threatens them to this day.

Artisans use their shells as media, carving them into combs, ornaments and other household decorations. Tourists in Indonesia have supported local crafters through their purchase of turtle souvenirs, turtle-skin bags and stuffed turtles. Some hunters have even killed turtles for oil used to light lamps in places such as Italy and Papua New Guinea. 3 In the Cayman Islands and other Caribbean locales, vendors sell turtle meat, which has been considered a delicacy for centuries, on the streets in the form of stews and steaks. 4 Men in Mexico and some Central American countries eat turtle eggs raw, believing the eggs increase sexual energy. 5

Misdirected Communications

In reaction to the disturbing deaths in Oaxaca, the San Diego group Wildcoast has launched a campaign to debunk the myth that eating turtle eggs will increase sexual stamina. On posters, billboards and television, a celebrity model from Argentina wears a threadbare swimsuit and stands next to the provocative phrase: "My man doesn't need turtle eggs. Because he knows they don't make him any more potent."6

Mexico's National Institute for Women has come forward to oppose the advertising, stating: "The institute is against this campaign because it promotes women as sexual objects. We are not against the campaigns that protect turtles and their eggs, just the way in which they use the woman, as a stereotype or sexual object."

But Wildcoast is not pulling back.

Fay Crevoshay, the group's communications director, said: "Let's have a sexy girl saying that the man I choose doesn't need sea turtle eggs. This is what I call target marketing. We are talking to a certain type of man that will look at this and get the message."7

Both the ads and Crevoshay's reference to the adult model Dorismar as 'a sexy girl' beckoning to her 'man' presents a language chock full of misogyny.

A Call for Integrity

In recent years, Mexican women have made substantial gains in access to education and political pull. At almost 20 percent, the proportion of women in Mexico's Congress doubles that in the United States legislature. 8 And through their involvement in social justice movements, numerous women in traditional Mexican cultures are esteemed for their leadership roles.

In this social context, Wildcoast's campaign is a menace.

Wildcoast should re-examine its role in a movement that seeks to teach respectful principles. In a noble concern to achieve respect for one population, Wildcoast shows none for another. Thus, the way in which the group attempts to highlight the senseless murder of sea turtles is counterproductive.

A willingness to belittle women in the name of animal advocacy is nothing new; but that doesn't mean it should spread.9

  • 1. All seven sea turtle species are protected by Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, which bans trade among party members, www.cites.org.
  • 2. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Florida Field Office, "Olive Ridley Sea Turtle," www.fws.gov
  • 3. The Marine Turtle Newsletter, "How C.I.T.E.S. benefits sea turtles," www.seaturtle.org, (1989).
  • 4. Personal letter to Priscilla Feral from James R. Wood, Managing Director Cayman Turtle Farm, Ltd. (16 January 1991).
  • 5. Burnett, John, "Costa Rican Villagers Sell Turtle Eggs to Save Sea Turtles, but Feud with Scientists," The Sustainable Development Reporting Project, (1998).
  • 6. Wildcoast, Campaign Updates, www.wildcoast.net
  • 7. McKinley, James C., Jr., "Turtle Eggs, Sexy and Flirty Ads, Fixings of a Mexican Stew," The New York Times, (25 August 2005). Patricia Espinosa, president of the National Institute for Women, observes, "The end of discouraging the consumption of turtle eggs doesn't justify a campaign like this." Ibid.
  • 8. Rodriguez, Victoria, "Women in Mexican Politics," Discovery, Research and Scholarship at the University of Texas at Austin, (18 March 1999). Victoria Rodriguez is a Professor at the University who began a research project in late 1994 about opposition politics in Mexico. At the time of this article, she had written two books on the role of women in Mexican politics.
  • 9. Hall, Lee, "A Cheap Shock Tactic with a Twist," Movement Watch, Act•ion Line, Fall 2003. About five years ago, PETA issued an ad with a woman's pubic hair sticking out from underneath her bikini. The ad read: "Fur Trim: Unattractive." Another PETA commercial featured a playboy model in an unbuttoned Uncle Sam outfit under the caption "I want YOU to go vegetarian." Not long ago, PETA's youngest model, Lolita star Dominique Swain was featured naked in a classroom turned to a chalkboard repeatedly writing "I'd rather go naked than wear fur."
Laurel Lundstrom

Act•ionLine Winter 2005

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