Eating Green Sea Turtle on Grand Cayman

Share this:

A couple of months ago I went on my very first international solo adventure. We had just returned from Vietnam, which had been sunny and hot. Coming home to the frigid temperatures and gloomy skies of northern Virginia was a real buzz kill. I reached out to my group of traveling friends, but alas, no one could leave on such short notice. So I closed my eyes and held my breath as I clicked the “Purchase Now” button for a solo snorkeling trip to Grand Cayman. But snorkeling wasn’t the only thing on my island agenda. The endangered green sea turtle was calling my name as well.

sea turtle

This is a pair of young green sea turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

Cayman Islands Green Sea Turtle History

When Christopher Columbus first sighted the Cayman Islands in 1503, he named them “Las Tortugas” due to the abundance of sea turtles in the surrounding waters. In fact, island natives became experts at hunting them, and green sea turtle became a large percentage of the protein the islanders consumed in their diets. The sea turtle was also important to the economy of the islands, and even appears on the Cayman Island’s flag.

sea turtle

The Cayman Islands flag honors the importance of the sea turtle to their history. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

In the early 1900s however, populations of sea turtles began to decline worldwide. Soon after, hunting them was banned internationally. But this left the residents of the Cayman Islands in an interesting quandary. The green sea turtle was a food source they had depended on for sustenance throughout their history.

So, in 1968 a group of investors from the US and Britain opened the Cayman Turtle Farm. Its for-profit mission was to supply turtle products to the world, without it having a negative impact on wild sea turtle populations. The farm has been through many changes since then, and today is owned by the Cayman Islands government. “The goal of this new company is to produce enough turtles to supply the needs of the local market and continue releasing turtles [into the wild].”
The end result of all the changes to the Cayman Turtle Farm over the last half century is that the Cayman Islands are now the only place in the world where you can legally consume the green sea turtle.

Rationalizing My Decision to Eat Sea Turtle

It didn’t take me long to find that there were at least two places on Grand Cayman that regularly offered green sea turtle on their menu. One of them – Myrtle’s – was within walking distance from my hotel. But I won’t lie … making a decision to sample green sea turtle wasn’t easy. It is, after all, an endangered species. So, I decided to hold off making the decision until I had done enough research to make my choice an easy one.

Ultimately my research all boiled down to this … The Cayman Turtle Farm was originally founded for the sole purpose of raising sea turtles for consumption. Over the years, that purpose morphed into also breeding and releasing sea turtles back into to wild. But without the market for sea turtle meat, the farm would not exist. There likely wouldn’t be enough revenue to keep the farm open if they were not able to sell some of their sea turtles for consumption.

I believe this to be true not only from the research I did, but from personally talking to the owner of Myrtle’s and a representative at the Cayman Turtle Farm.

sea turtle

The menu at Myrtle’s Restaurant & Bar features green sea turtle. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

My Green Sea Turtle Dinner at Myrtle’s Restaurant & Bar

Myrtle’s is a very unassuming little restaurant hidden away in a strip mall in Queen’s Court Plaza along Seven Mile Beach. When I first walked in I wasn’t sure it was even open. There were no customers, and the only light that was on was in the kitchen. But I was soon greeted by Mr. Myrtle, the owner, who turned on the lights and presented me with my menu.

I immediately chatted him up and told him of my mission to sample the green sea turtle. He was very pleased to hear that, and it soon became evident how proud he is of his Island heritage, especially the history of the sea turtles and their importance to the Cayman Islands.

I ordered the sea turtle soup as a starter and the sea turtle steak as my entrée.

My green sea turtle soup was very spicy, yet not hot. It was an interesting flavor I had sampled in other dishes since arriving on the island. The meat reminded me of beef stew that had been cooked for a long time. There were pieces of fat that had dark spots on them that looked like they may be impressions from the turtle’s shell. The fat was very soft, yet not oily or greasy. The soup also contained cassava, green pepper, potatoes, onions and celery. The layers of flavors were amazing, suggesting that Mr. Myrtle (or his chef) knew exactly what they were doing.

sea turtel

The green sea turtle soup was spicy with layers of flavor. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

When my green sea turtle steak arrived, it resembled a cube steak as opposed to a ribeye. In fact, as I was enjoying my soup, I could hear them pounding my turtle steak in the background, obviously to help tenderize it. It was about 1/2” to 5/8” thick, and a little tough though not bad at all. It was obvious from the beginning that everything I sampled had been made totally from scratch.

sea turtle

The green sea turtle steak was a bit tough yet very tasty. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

The dinner was not inexpensive, but I actually found everything on the island to be overpriced. My green sea turtle soup was $6 KYD, which converts to $7.32 US. The green sea turtle steak was $32 KYD, which is $39.02 US. It certainly was not a budget meal, and as such, not something I would be eating often. But for the experience it was definitely money well spent.

Mr. Myrtle of Myrtle’s Restaurant & Bar

If you’re ever visiting Grand Cayman, I highly recommend going to Myrtle’s Restaurant & Bar. Even if you aren’t interested in sampling the green sea turtle, I believe you will really enjoy the authentic island vibe. Mr. Myrtle was a joy to talk with, and will enthusiastically share all his knowledge and love for the island and its food. I regret that I was not able to go back a second time to sample the “ackee and codfish,” which Mr. Myrtle says is another island favorite.

Disclosure: I did not receive compensation in any form for writing this article.

Share this:

33 thoughts on “Eating Green Sea Turtle on Grand Cayman

  1. Nancy

    Oh daring! I’m not sure I’d be up for trying turtle soup, especially seeing what you had on your spoon! I had enough venturing out of my comfort zone last month when I tried raw tuna. Lol!

  2. Krystal

    I’ve never had sea turtle before, but I’ll try anything once. I’m glad to see that it’s farm raised, so the environment isn’t being impacted.

  3. Cia from Cia Says

    The #1 thing i appreciate about this article is that you took the time to explain the role and the need for the farm. I am sure several readers might have shook their heads at the fact that you decided to CONSUME such a prized figure. Explaining that there was a need for the farm and that they not only breed the turtles for consumption but also to grow the population really gave this piece a mature tone.

    BTW: Now I am curious as to how I would enjoy the turtle. 🙂

  4. Mary O'Malley

    This is definitely something I would too have to take a long time to decide whether or not to try it. I’m glad that they help raise and release sea turtles though. I just can’t imagine eating one though, they’re too cute. <3

    1. Cherri M Post author

      Nicole – They are beautiful, aren’t they? They’re so graceful in the water. I am a snorkeler and have seen many while snorkeling. I haven’t made it to Hawaii yet though.

  5. Chrystal @ YUM eating

    I have heard of people eating turtle. It’s just not for me. I guess you would have to not tell me what it is for me to try it. I don’t really like eating meat as it is so when I do eat it, there are only a few I will eat.

  6. Tamika

    This is something, I couldn’t have the strength to try. The soup looks very delicious and an interesting pairing. I don’t know, if I would of tried the Sea Turtle Steak.

  7. eliz frank

    Sea turtles are considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. The people who eat them claim the meat is delicious.

  8. rochkirstin

    Whoa. In Chinese cuisine, the sea turtle is also famous for giving out good health benefits particular to build stronger endurance and good health generally. Personally though, I don’t think I can do that. It’s just interesting to know that turtles do have fat as well but not oily or greasy.

  9. Debi

    Turtle isn’t something I can see myself eating, but I know that I don’t have a taste for things like that. I am glad that it is specially farmed and does not affect the wild.

  10. Lynndee

    I consider myself adventurous when it comes to food, but I don’t think I would dare eat an exotic food like that. 🙂 I think I am not that adventurous after all. LOL.

  11. Norm Wells

    Myrtle’s turtles. Glad you tried it. Funny you needed to justify it. Knowing that it was endangered yet farmed made the justification obvious to me. Want to have lots of something? Make it profitable.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Norm – Exactly! Money is the answer to a lot of our ecological problems. In Honduras where the sea is overrun with invasive lionfish they are dealing with the issue by spearfishing them and selling them to restaurants to serve. They’re actually quite good!

  12. Alan Berman

    As a sea turtle biologist and conservationist, this is ethically disgusting to me. Why would anyone want to promote the consumption of an endangered species, people who purchase this here are likely to purchase it elsewhere. Sea turtles are beautiful, wild, endangered reptiles…we produce more then enough domesticated meat that no one needs or should be eating turtles. All of you consumers need to consider more fully the wider implications of this terrible practice. The Islanders can be proud of their heritage and I can say proudly that I will tell as many people as possible not to support this shameful excuse for a conservation project.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Alan – I understand your point. As I mentioned in my post, it is something I struggled with and I explained my reasoning. The net effect of Grand Cayman’s sea turtle project is that many green sea turtles are bred and released into the ocean than would not have been there otherwise. I understand your objections, but I would hardly call their efforts “shameful.” Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  13. Don

    As a conservationist I hesitated, but was convinced by the argument that the project releases large numbers of turtles at places where they can nest, and the need for income to support it. The piece I had was tough and flavorless, and I don’t plan to order it again.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Don – I felt much the same way. Wouldn’t it be nice if the developed world’s priorities were such that programs like this were funded without having to sell the meat of an endangered animal?

  14. Nicole

    This eating is NOT necessary. I agree with Alan Berman, what is it that we have to ” try” everything that lives? Grand Cayman has a problem with lionfish which tastes good! Why not eat that instead if you want to help conservation. And the farm should ask for donation; no need to kill the turtles. Open working at the farm to volunteers and explain to tourists that if they give than the government won’t have to sell some turtles to restaurants…With 200,000 visitors a year though, I wonder why it is necessary to rely on a small restaurant where there are no customers….:) they can put $1. more on the entrance fee and release more sea turtle in the wild….Just a thought.

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Nicole – Thank you for your thoughts; I appreciate the feedback. I know the sanctuary does take donations, but I’m guessing they are not substantive enough to cover costs. And in regards to lionfish, I seek them out wherever I travel. I have written about them as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *