European Agri Ministers Support Organic Farming
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, May 14, 2001 (ENS) - Greater cooperation between the countries of the Caribbean is urgently needed to stem the tide of strong demand for marine turtle products in this region, according to a new report. Marine turtles in the Northern Caribbean have over the centuries been devastated by overexploitation, bringing some populations to the brink of extinction and severely threatening others.
The report by TRAFFIC North America, "Swimming Against The Tide," reviewed the exploitation, trade and management of marine turtles in 11 countries and territories in the Northern Caribbean. Using research and field surveys, it gathered and analyzed information about the harvest of marine turtles, the use of and trade in their products, and the impact of these activities on their populations.
The report is being released on the eve of the First CITES Wider Caribbean Hawksbill Turtle Dialogue Meeting that begins in Mexico City on Tuesday. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
"Sea turtle meat and eggs are consumed by communities throughout the region, while products are made from turtle parts, including oil, cartilage, skin and shell. They provide everything from basic sustenance to luxury items," said TRAFFIC North America director Simon Habel. "Hawksbill shell products continue to be sold at tourist centers, including international airports, in violation of national laws."
INCONSISTENT CONSERVATION MEASURES
The management and control of turtle exploitation varies greatly across the region, the TRAFFIC report explains.
Marine turtles are highly migratory species - breeding, nesting and feeding across thousands of miles of ocean. Over-exploitation and illegal trade by the other countries in the region can easily foil significant conservation progress made in some countries.
TRAFFIC researchers found that despite strong protective measures in many countries, demand for turtle products remains persistent throughout the region, with illegally harvested products being openly sold in a number of markets.
Demand for turtle meat and eggs, as well as turtle products such as oil, cartilage, leather and shells, are among the most urgent threats to turtles in the Caribbean region.
"These countries must have regular regional dialogue meetings and consider establishing bilateral or multi-lateral agreements and management plans," Habel said.
LACK OF INFORMATION
Habel also cited lack of information as a severe problem that needs to be addressed by the region as a whole. While biologists are aware of some of the issues that contribute to decreases in turtle populations, such as the loss or degradation of nesting beaches and marine habitats, and capture of turtles as bycatch in net and line fisheries, it is unclear how much of a difference each of these problems creates.
Other obstacles facing efforts to protect turtle species include the biological characteristics of the animals. For example, female turtles generally do not reproduce until they are at least 15 to 20 years of age in some species, and up to 50 years in others. Eggs, hatchlings and juveniles suffer heavy natural mortality as well as impacts from humans.
Countries in the region need to intensify their data collection and research efforts and actively exchange this information with each other. The TRAFFIC report suggests that information could be fed into a regional repository to establish baseline indicators of harvest levels and compile statistics of legal landings, reported poaching incidents, strandings and levels of incidental catch.
A centralized database of seizures and prosecutions would also assist governments in the region in assessing trends in law enforcement, trade routes, levels of illegal trade, values of products and smuggling methods, the TRAFFIC report notes.
MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE
Habel noted that some progress has already been made in the area of regional cooperation, including initiatives such as the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles, which came into force this month. This is the only international treaty created specifically to conserve marine turtles and their habitats.
However, the Cartagena Convention - The Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region, which took effect in 1983 - is the only legally binding environmental treaty for the region.
The First CITES Wider Caribbean Hawksbill Turtle Dialogue Meeting will take place May 15-17 in Mexico City and will be attended by 33 countries and territories in the wider Caribbean territory.
"Much more needs to be done to build regional cooperation in areas such as information exchange, legislation, enforcement, training, capacity building and public awareness," Habel concluded. "Only then can we hope to stem the tide of strong demand, and rebuild and conserve marine turtle populations in the Northern Caribbean."
The full report is available at: http://www.worldwildlife.org/species/attachments/caribbean_turtles.pdf