Conservationists want Pope to protect turtles
A centuries-old Mexican tradition of eating sea turtles during Lent is killing as many as 5000 of the endangered reptiles each year, say conservationists launching a campaign to end the practice.
"The tradition has to stop," said Serge Dedina, a director of Wildcoast, a California-based conservation organisation that has started a Spanish-language radio campaign.
The group is part of a coalition that has asked the pope to ban turtle meat, which many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans eat during "Semana Santa," or the days leading up to Easter Sunday.
"Many of the consumers consider sea turtle to be 'fish' because it swims. We humbly request that your holiness officially clarify that sea turtle flesh is meat and inappropriate for consumption during Lent," the Sea Turtle Conservation Network of the Californias said in a letter to Pope John Paul II.
"If the pope were to ban turtle meat, we'd support it," Ana Maria Castro, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said on Wednesday.
But she added: "We cannot make it mandatory for a Catholic not to eat meat during Lent. It's up to his or her discretion. We can just recommend it as a religious observance."
As many as 35,000 sea turtles are slaughtered by poachers annually along the Baja California coast to feed black market demand, Dedina said, adding that some of the meat finds its way into the United States.
Wildcoast International Conservation Team
15 Mar 2002