Men's Wish to Increase Their Libido Is Driving Sea Turtles to Extinction

Indonesia's multibillion egg poaching industry is hurting six of the remaining seven sea turtle species in the world.

13 February 2018, 7:30am

Photo of turtles via pixnio. Photo of turtle eggs via wikimedia commons

In Indonesia, many men believe consuming sea turtle eggs can make them last longer in bed.

It's a myth that has created a multibillion rupiah industry of sea turtle egg poaching, with increasing number of eggs stolen from beaches in Indonesia every year.

Last week, five men stole 500 sea turtle eggs in Sangalaki, Derawan Islands, East Kalimantan after digging into five nests on the beach. On average, there are 100 eggs in every nest, according to officials. The robbers were caught by the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) staff members, whom they threatened with machetes before fleeing the scene.

Arganto Seno, the Chief of BKSDA Derawan told local media that the agency's staff members recognized two of the robbers, who are natives of Derawan Islands. Currently, the local police and BKSDA are coordinating to go after the rest.

You have to admit that the robbers were brave. As mentioned in Indonesia's Conservation of Natural Biological Resources Law, if you're caught stealing sea turtle eggs, you're looking at five years in prison and a fine of Rp 100 million ($7,340 USD). Even that isn't enough to solve the problem, environmentalists say. The problem here is that the demand for sea turtle eggs is still very high. Derawan Islands is one of the most vulnerable conservation sites for sea turtle eggs for this reason. Tragically, out of seven living sea turtle species in the world, six of them are found in Indonesian coastlines.

Bayu Sandi, a coordinator from ProFauna Indonesia, said that the biggest threat of sea turtle eggs theft is in Derawan Islands. Derawan, which is made up of 31 islands, is the biggest habitat for sea turtles in Asia. Every year, about 10,000 female sea turtles lay eggs on nine different islands there. That sounds like a lot of eggs, but it's much fewer compared to a decade ago. In Sangalaki Island alone, there are only 30 active nests out of a total 200 since 2008, Bayu said. This can only mean that sea turtles and their eggs have been massively hunted for the last decade.

“Sangalaki Island is the main destination for turtles to lay eggs,” Bayu told VICE. “The number of eggs laid is significant, and therefore turn them into a target.”

Sea turtles, especially green sea turtles, can be found in almost every coast of Indonesia. From a study by University of Udayana Bali, there are about 35,000 green turtles in Indonesia in 2016.

The nesting season of sea turtles usually occurs between May and November. Due to their slow life cycle (their reproductive system matures at the age of 30-50 years old), threats from predators and humans may actually wipe the sea turtle population in Indonesia within the next three decades, Bayu said.

Bayu felt that local residents of Derawan have been too reliant on catching and selling sea turtle eggs for their source of income. In 2012, enraged residents protested the presence of BKSDA on the island for threatening their livelihood.

“This is what challenges our conservation efforts," Bayu said. "We need to educate the residents since sea turtles need to be protected. Theft still happens. It’s cliche, but we need more people to keep observing these spots."

Sadly, egg poaching happens ever year. Within the last two years alone, ProFauna recorded 30 different cases of sea turtle egg poaching across Indonesia. The biggest one yet was when last year the police in Samarinda foiled a scheme to smuggle 4,600 sea turtle eggs.

ProFauna Indonesia also estimated that money circulating from the illegal sales of those eggs in Kalimantan reaches Rp 4.2 billion ($294,000 USD) per year. Around 100,000 eggs are being traded every year. Each egg from Dermawan is sold for Rp 6,000 ($0.44 USD) in local markets, and the number will double outside of the island.

The demand for sea turtle eggs mostly come from different regions in Indonesia, even though sometimes the eggs are exported to Malaysia and Japan. Again, the local demand for the eggs is mostly due to the absurd belief that consuming them (raw or in a mixed drink) can increase a man's libido. Just like how Papua’s leech oil can supposedly enlarge the penis, the turtle egg myth has no scientific evidence to support it. In fact, eating sea turtle eggs can be bad for your health. A study by the World Wildlife Fund Indonesia says that sea turtle eggs contain high levels of cholesterol and polychlorinated biphenyl, a substance that is believed to cause birth defects and many kinds of cancer.

“It’s all connected to all kinds of myths circulating in the society,” Bayu said. “These sort of myths have been deeply ingrained in Indonesians.”

In the worst case scenario, if the country fails to educate its people and impose stricter laws on egg poaching, Indonesian sea turtles may become extinct just because some men want a longer erection. What a shame.