Meat Free May: Tobago – An Angry Post about Endangered Species

Nothing lasts like a little context. From a charitable perspective, my primary motivation for signing up for Meat Free May comes from a certain revelatory moment about the impact farming and fisheries smack down on the environment.

My hotel balcony offers a breathtaking view of the Atlantic coast. I could vault over the bannister, drop a floor and limp to the water’s edge all within a few minutes. where grass surrenders to sand their is a sign explaining that this private beach moonlights as a hatchery for the island’s three principal turtle species.

The Green Turtle (chelonia mydas) principally concerns itself with seagrass and algae, though the fates consider viral tumours and the inevitable poaching to be worthy considerations too.

The Hawksbill Turtle (eretmochelys imbricata) carries a distinctive bill and a taste for certain corals, sponges and invertebrates which promote levels of toxicity within its flesh which can be fatal to humans if ingested. Because humans can find any reason to slaughter something beautiful, crafts made from their shells apparently justify their reaping. Combined with the degradation of marine habitats and ‘incidental mortality’ from fishing; the hawksbill occupies pride of place in the crosshairs.

For some reason the story of the Leatherback (dermochelys coriacea) resonates with me the most. That any species is endangered is an outrage, but the Leatherback’s demise would deprive us of something truly unique.

Besides being the largest of all modern turtles; Leatherbacks are the fourth largest reptile behind three renditions of crocodile. They have occupied every single ocean on the planet, often as far down as 4000 feet, and have been doing so for the better part of 100 million years.

For scale; and to demonstrate how fucking despicable some people can be.

You’ll note the distinctive ridges and leathery shell (hence the name) this twisted abuse of oxygen is obscuring. Lacking a traditional bony shell diminishes their suitability for arts and crafts; and their size limits their predators to killer whales, sharks and us. Poaching during the nesting season contributes to their endangered status, but entanglement in fishing gear is yet again a critical threat to the Leatherback. Another entirely perverse danger to these beautiful creatures is ocean pollution – often suffocating plastic bags mistaken for the jellyfish which forms much of their diet.

This post has meandered and is far more incensed than I was anticipating. Proximity can do that – in the dead of night I’ve seen men stalking the beach from here. This could be entirely innocent – night fishing is a valued (and legal) practice – but suspicion is justified. Despite extensive education, legislation and committed enforcement; the fight for survival is undermined by a demand for exotic, seasonal delicacies. I can’t think of a more perfect demonstration of the importance of work by organisations like Friends of the Earth. From here, I could transplant something precious and rare from beach to bowl with comparative ease.

Responsibility isn’t an abstract. Its easy to forget that we can all remain informed and that we all have to make a choice.

Even the tiniest contribution can make a difference. Donations to Friends of the Earth are greatly appreciated.