Panama turtle eggs contain high levels of toxic metals

Tuesday August 16th, in the wake of the seizure of over 7000 illegally poached turtle eggs, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) released information on the toxicity levels in turtle eggs on the coast of Panama Pacific.


Researchers from STRI Panama and Canada's McGill University collected eggs from the nests of several species of sea turtles including the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea). They found that the eggs had high concentrations of manganese, iron, copper, zinc, arsenic, cadmium and mercury. Cadmium, product of air and water pollution, is perhaps the biggest risk for those who consume the eggs.

In the recently released study, STRI and McGill University researchers warned that consumption of turtle eggs "could be dangerous, especially for children."

Hector Guzman, a scientist at STRI explained in an article published by La Prensa “we are discovering that consumption of turtle eggs can be harmful and certainly should be treated as a potential public health problem.”

While the sale of turtle eggs in Panama is prohibited, this has not prevented poachers, known locally as “hueveros” to take sea turtle eggs from their nests for consumption and commercial use.

David Ross, the lead author on the study conducted by  McGill University explains that eating a couple of turtle eggs will likely not be dangerous, however consuming a  large number of turtle eggs over time may contribute substantially to long term health problems.

While information on the negative effects of the consumption of turtle eggs on humans is in it’s infancy, what we are certain of are the negative effects the consumption of turtle eggs has on the mature sea turtle populations.  

Scientists estimate that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood, the more eggs poached the fewer hatchlings born. Fewer hatchlings, fewer mature sea turtles.