National Geographic : 1967 Jun
"Turtle bones," the pilot called out. He nosed the airplane down to a hundred feet and, looking closely, I could see the white patches were bleached shells and bones left by calipee hunters. In most cases they had taken the calipee-the cartilaginous part of the under shell-leaving the turtle to die. Calipee is the most important ingredient of the famous English clear green turtle soup. It gives the soup its characteristic consistency. Some connoisseurs will reject turtle soup that fails to make their lips stick together. Cali pee produces this quality. Natural Sanctuaries Invaded The demand for it has had an alarming ef fect on green turtle populations. Light, easy to conceal, and practically indestructible when sun-dried to the texture of rawhide, the three or four pounds of calipee from one turtle brings as much as $5-more than the whole turtle brought a few years ago. As a result, hunters are killing green turtles in remote places where they were not molested before. An increasing trade in turtle hides for leather adds cause for concern. This spring a fashionable New York store advertised a new "status" handbag of sea-turtle skin: "Only the underside of the turtle's flippers will do." 884 The first I saw of the traffic in turtle skins was at a fishermen's camp just across the pass from our research station. As I walked into the cluster of thatched shacks, I noticed a man carefully salting and rolling the skin of the shoulders, neck, and upper foreflippers of a green turtle. "What are you doing with the turtle skin?" I asked him. "Saltin' it," he said. "Eduardo Sung instruc' me how you roll dem to send away." Sung was a buyer of shark fins, calipee, and tortoise shell. He operated from a little settle ment up the coast. I sat down and watched the workman make a neat parcel of the irregular rag of hide, stow it in a box under a layer of salt, and pick up another skin from a pile. I plied him with questions about the market for skins and learned enough to increase my misgivings over the future of the green turtle. Each new by-product increases the zeal of the hunters, both legal and illegal. Several seasons ago, before turtling was outlawed, I was walking the Bogue one night without a light, as the turtle hunters do. Sud denly a voice came out of the darkness: "Estd poniendo [she's laying]." It was Eligio, a spry Nicaraguan who had been turning turtles at Tortuguero every sea son for 35 years.