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9 People Dead and 78 Others Hospitalised After Eating Sea Turtle Meat on Pemba Island

Consumption of sea turtle meat has led to nine deaths on Pemba Island, but this is not the first incident of this kind in recent history.

Image shows sea turtle underwater.
Nine people have died after consuming sea turtle meat in remote Zanzibar island. Credit: Shutterstock/Achimdiver

The consumption of sea turtle meat has led to the deaths of nine people. Seventy-eight others were hospitalized, having side effects from eating the meat.

According to authorities, the incident occurred last Tuesday on Pemba Island, a remote island in the Zanzibar archipelago.

Of the nine deaths that occurred, eight were children, and one was an adult. The adult died late Friday and was the mother of one of the children who succumbed earlier, according to the Mkoani District medical officer, Dr. Haji Bakari. He confirmed that the meat was consumed on Tuesday, March 5, too. 

Bakari told the Associated Press that laboratory tests did confirm that all the fatalities from the incident had indeed consumed sea turtle meat. 

Zanzibar authorities sent a disaster management team to urge people to avoid consuming sea turtle meat. The disaster management team was led by Hamza Hassan Juma. 

The people of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania in East Africa, view sea turtle meat as a delicacy. They still view it as a delicacy despite the fact that it periodically results in deaths from chelonitoxism.

Chelonitoxism is a type of food poisoning. Symptoms of it may vary, but will usually include vomiting, nausea, and tingling sensations. In severe cases, paralysis can occur, according to the National Institutes for Health.

The exact cause of what makes sea turtle meat poisonous is not exactly known, but it is thought to stem from the poisonous algae that turtles eat.

2021 sea turtle meat incidents

This most recent incident with sea turtle meat is not the only one in recent history. 

Seven people, including a three-year-old, died on the same island, Pemba Island, after eating poisonous sea turtle meat in November 2021. 38 others were hospitalized in the incident.

Zanzibar’s President Hussein Mwinyi sent his condolences to the families impacted.

This incident was not the only one to take place in 2021. In March of the same year, 19 people, including nine children, died after eating sea turtle meat, as reported by the AFP news agency. In this incident in Madagascar, 34 people were hospitalized, according to the Health and Food Safety Control Agency.  

There have also been reports of similar cases in Indonesia, India’s Indian Ocean islands, and Micronesia.  

What was the reaction on social media?

Reactions on social media varied from some feeling sorry for those who passed to people saying it was cruel to eat sea turtle meat and some empathizing with the turtle. 

One X user wrote: “Leave them turtles ALONE!!!”

Others also chose to admonish the victims, with someone posting: “They shouldn’t be destroying an endangered species.”

Another user sympathized with those who died from eating the sea turtle meat, saying: “RIP to the folks that passed.”

One user on Instagram empathized with the turtle, writing: “The only empathy I have is for the turtle that died.”

Endangered sea turtles 

The exact species of sea turtle has not been confirmed, as of yet. As well as this, the date of the first reported death and hospitalization have not been reported either. 

When it comes to the sea turtle, it has found itself on many endangered species lists recently. Their presence on these lists is due to factors such as human predation, climatological considerations, as well as environmental factors. The most well-known of these endangered turtles includes the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. 

The Kemp’s Ridley species has faced recent challenges in terms of warming waters off the northeast coast of the United States, an area which they inhabit. This has led to them staying longer in that location into late autumn in Massachusetts when they should have moved south. 

Written By

Matthew McKeown is a student at Ulster University, in his final year of a BA History degree. His interests include current affairs, politics, and international relations.

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