Reader Response: "Turtles: Friends or Food?"

To add context: this article is a response to another article that was published on the University of Hawaii's, Ka leo, Opinion page. The title of that article is, "Turtles: Friends or Food?". Please visit the page to read the article: "Turtles: Friends or Food?".

The author shares her thoughts on a recent controversy involving two Marshallese men (allegedly) who seemed to have killed a sea turtle and posted pictures of themselves posing with the dead animal. 

The photos sparked public outrage over social media and even made its way to local news.

"Photo of man and bloodied sea turtle stirs controversy over social media". HNN

To my understanding Hawaii DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) have concluded that the pictures in question were not taken in Hawaii but in the Marshall Islands. They seem to have come to this conclusion before the Ka leo article was written.

Hunting turtles for food is legal in the Marshall Islands. Acceptance of this fact should have made this incident a non-issue, it did not.

Prior to the DLNR's investigation, countless Marshallese were already explaining that the photos were taken in the Marshall Islands. There was a screen capture of the original posting of the photos that explained the origin of the pictures. The screen capture was shared across social media in an effort to thwart public anger.

However social media conjecture fueled by marine conservation group, "OCEAN DEFENDER - Hawaii" continued to grow.

It was only until Hawaii DLNR confirmed the identities of the men and presumably the origin of the incident that public outrage decreased.

The Ka leo article published weeks later may serve to reinvigorate an issue that should never have grown to the level that it did. This response, is intended to clear up any misconceptions that may have arisen after the article was written.


In the opening sentence the two men are described as, “Micronesian males”, then it immediately goes to say that they have not been identified yet: “action has been taken to find out the identity of the two men…” Please explain this. How do you know their ethnicity and not their identities? Have authorities identified them but their names have been withheld from the public? Or did you assume that they are Marshallese based on social media conjecture? The author should explain how he/she came to this information.

“It was unethical for the two males to publicly post the picture on the Internet.” Why? How is it any different than when people hoist up dead animals that they hunt or when people post pictures of animals as food? Is it because turtles are at risk of becoming endangered? NOAA lists the reasons sea turtles were endangered:

1. Destruction and alteration of nesting and feeding habits.
2. Incidental capture (bycatch) in commercial and recreational fisheries.
3. Entanglement in marine debris.
4. Vessel strikes.

Two men hunting (allegedly) a turtle for food like their ancestors have been doing for centuries is not the problem. Pacific Islanders have been living off of the sea sustainably for generations; they are not to blame for the degradation. Isn’t it ironic and contemptuous for foreigners to deplete a people of their resources then make laws to outlaw the practice of their culture? Those who caused the problem should be the ones held accountable.

“They subjected viewers to the violence of the killing and it showed little sensitivity.” Alright, I understand “little sensitivity”. Like, once again, posting pictures of hunted wildlife. I can understand that that would churn the stomachs of many. But, it seems like we have another case of conjecture and assumption: “violence of the killing”. There is no evidence that the two men killed the turtle. What you have is a picture of two men holding up what seems to be the bloody carcass of a sea turtle. They have no fishing gear or knives to carry out a “killing”. One of the major causes of unnecessary deaths to sea creatures including sea turtles is “vessel strike”. With only the picture to draw from, it is just as likely that the turtle was accidentally struck by a vessel rather than hunted by these men.

Pork, beef, poultry, turtles; what makes one viler than the other? One can argue that turtle meat is far healthier than the latter three. Turtles are also hunted free-range, not factory farmed under inhumane conditions. If it's the endangerment aspect of the animal then shouldn't we be more outraged at those responsible: fishing companies. Or have we surrendered to the millions they've paid us? Is the outrage centered around insensitivity? I repeat my earlier sentiments: are you equally outraged by hunters who pose with their kill, who in some cases hoist the heads of their kill in their homes as trophies. Is the anger fueled by culture? Then that would be a case of ethnocentrism. Would you be in compliance with Hindus or Jains if they tell you to not eat beef because it is sacred to them?

If ethnocentrism is not the case then you have to explain why there was no similar outrage to the many pictures of Polynesians posing with turtles and referring to them as food. Who is defining these ethics, and who is immune to them?

One final thought; what do you mean when you write, “my Micronesian mother”? I do not mean to be malicious, I simply do not understand the statement. Is there an elder that you consider to be a mother figure who happens to be from Micronesia? Or are you referring to your literal mother?

If you are a non-Micronesian, then hiding behind your “Micronesian mother” to justify your article is akin to when people say offensive things about another ethnicity/race and reply, “it’s ok because I have friends who are [that race/ethnicity]”. However, if you are referring to your literal mother, then when you say my “Micronesian mother”, it may confuse your readers. I think it is important that you explain this so we can gain a fuller understanding of what you are trying to accomplish with that statement?

To condense this response, please explain the following:

1. How did you come to know the ethnicity of the two men?
2. How do you know that the two men killed the sea turtle?
3. What is your outrage centered on? Culture? Law? Your own personal opinions?