GMU funds Multidisciplinary Research Sea Turtle Project

Effects of the Illegal Consumption of Sea Turtles on Human Health and Environmental Security in Northwestern Mexico

Alonzo Turtle

All of the six species of sea turtles in Mexico are endangered, and yet all are harvested illegally as a food resource. In the study area, human consumption is the main cause of mortality for these endangered species. At the same time, sea turtle meat is dangerous to human health, as it is often contaminated with toxic heavy metals like cadmium and mercury that can cause organ failure, neurological damage, and other serious diseases. No previous study has linked turtle consumption to high levels of toxins in humans. This study is likely to provide the first evidence of high levels of toxic heavy metals in humans who consume sea turtles. We will attempt to demonstrate that the consumption of illegally harvested sea turtles is not just ecologically damaging but also a direct threat to human health and to security in the region. This work will be critical for the development of a larger research proposal to be submitted to external funding agencies. Within Mason this research combines our expertise in toxicology, ecology, epidemiology, public policy, environmental law, and endangered species protection. The project will bring faculty and students from these disparate fields together around a vital environmental security issue in the largest sense. This case study will provide an important foundation for expanded future work seeking solutions to biodiversity issues and security in other countries across the globe. A healthy environment and compliance with international treaties and regulations are essential for health, international relations, peace, and stability.

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