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Locals dance to traditional music at Rawai pier, in southern Phuket

Phuket Turtle Poisoning: Three Villagers Die

Monday, June 28, 2010
THREE people have died in a Phuket sea gypsy village from what experts believe is food poisoning from the meat of a Hawksbill turtle.

A sea gypsy woman died on June 4, followed on June 9 by an 11-month-old boy who fed from the breast of a woman who ate the turtle, and a 60-year-old woman who died on June 11.

All were from the southern sea gypsy village of Rawai.

Others who ate the meat suffered food poisoning, but survived. About 80 people told investigators that they shared the turtle.

Dr Wannakiat Tubtimsang, Director of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, based at Cape Panwa, said he first learned of the deaths on June 10 when villagers came to the cape, which shares space with the Phuket Marine Biology Centre. Turtles are hatched and raised there, and injured turtles are helped to recover.

The villagers asked Dr Wannakiat for a live turtle to release. They believed that by freeing the turtle, their good fortune would be restored.

An investigation by the Public Health Department and Dr Wannakiat established that the victims had eaten the flesh of a Hawksbill turtle, a rare type that has unusual eating habits. Hawksbills eat sea sponges containing high concentrations of silica, as well as comb jellies and jellyfish.

''It appears the turtle was toxic,'' Dr Wannakiat said. ''We haven't had a case like it on Phuket before.''

Today at a seminar entitled 'Marine Biodiversity in Thailand: Challenges and Opportunities' at Phuket Royal City Hotel, Dr Wannakiat mentioned the case.

He said that the sea gypsies had been warned that some species of traditional fare could be dangerous because of changes in the feeding habits of marine creatures.

Dr Wannakiat gave the Rawai villagers a turtle to free. The villagers say they are not going to eat Hawksbill turtles in future.

The Hawksbill, named for its curved beak, is perhaps the rarest of five species that were once found in abundance off the coast of Phuket and the Andaman.

Sea gypsies, or morken, live a traditional lifestyle in several fishing villages around Phuket and along the Andaman coast. Most have adapted to life on the island or the mainland and are no longer as nomadic as their ancestors once were.

Some were able to escape the 2004 tsunami because they realised the reaction of their animals to the undersea earthquake that triggered the big wave meant it was time to move away from the coast.

At least one group of sea gypsies relocated from an island off Phang Nga to the mainland after the tsunami.

Anthropologists feared their lifestyle and traditions would be destroyed, but the villagers have thrived on improved access to schools and better health care, as well as involvement in local government.

Others remain fringe-dwellers, preferring to live a traditional life in isolation.
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Not sure who I feel more sorry for! Talk about instant karma!

Posted by Antz Pantz on June 29, 2010 09:37

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PW Ed.,
Please clarify, did they eat the turtle they were given?
What is dismaying are the many restaurants are still serving shark-fin soup, and those still ordering it..

Editor: ''The villagers asked Dr Wannakiat for a live turtle to release. They believed that by freeing the turtle, their good fortune would be restored.''

Posted by Horse Doctor on June 29, 2010 10:27

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Very ugly comment from Antz Pantz. You seem to be saying that if a poor, uneducated person eats an endangered species, they deserve to die.

Posted by Dave Taylor on June 29, 2010 11:03

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Thank you Ed, I understand what is clearly written.

My question is; instead of freeing it, did they eat the turtle they were given?

Posted by Horse Doctor on June 29, 2010 11:39

Editor Comment:

Why would you not take the sea gypsies at their word? We have no reason to doubt them.

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@Dave Taylor.. The Sea Gypsies got a turtle from the Marine Department under the guise of freeing it to restore good fortune. Instead they killed it and ate it. Regardless of one's wealth or education level, we all know what lies are.

Posted by Antz Pantz on June 29, 2010 20:48

Editor Comment:

Antz Pantz, There were two turtles, the Hawksbill turtle that apparently caused the poisoning, and a second turtle that the villagers sought to free to restore their fortunes. Unless you know something we don't, there is nothing to suggest that this turtle was eaten.

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Why eat a turtle?
Sharing it with 80 villagers suggests that it was not starvation that made them eat it. They probably thought it must bring them luck.
I hope they leave the turtles alone now.

Posted by suzanne on July 1, 2010 13:06

Editor Comment:

Turtles are traditional fare for sea gypsies. They probably ask: ''Why eat a burger?'' The sea is theirs. The turtles are free.


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