Two sea turtles have been discovered dead on the beach of Laabadhoo island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, cut open for their eggs and left to rot on the sand.
Sixty-nine year old Abdulla Saeed from Fares-Maathodaa found the turtles on the beach. The first was found on 4 February. It had been cut open for its eggs. From the size of the maggots found on the corpse, Saeed estimated it had been killed 48 hours earlier.
He found the second turtle on 6 February. Its corpse was still fresh, suggesting it was killed overnight.
Saeed believes the turtles were killed by islanders of Maathoda on Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, and despite the illegality of killing turtles, it is still a relatively common practice in his region.
Aya Naseem, a marine biologist, says many islands kill turtles for their eggs.
“People have no idea of the harm they are causing,” she says. “They just see it as another way of getting food.”
Ali Rilwan from the NGO Bluepeace says the organisation has reports of turtles being killed, but “we normally hear of this happening for their meat, not eggs.”
Both turtle meat and eggs are considered delicacies in the Maldives, but killing turtles is prohibited by the law. Collecting the eggs from the beach is legal in all but 11 islands, according to Rilwan.
The turtles come up to the beach overnight to lay eggs during their egg-laying cycle. Saeed says the ”turtles would come to lay eggs once every 13 days,” and this can happen four to five times during each cycle. The turtles will not lay eggs again for another six to eight months.
Even though it is legal to harvest eggs from the beach, Saeed says the unlaid eggs are almost only yolk, unlike the eggs laid at the end of the cycle which can be hard and stony. He added that “islanders in the region love to eat short eats made from turtle eggs.”
“They do not even wait for it to lay eggs,” he said. “They do this just for the pleasure of killing.”
Even on the islands where it is illegal to harvest the eggs from the beach, “there are no warnings…and it’s not properly managed,” says Rilwan.
With sea turtles being on the endangered species list, and their eggs and meat considered delicacies, there is a looming struggle between tradition and the environment.