Alarmed by the rising illegal trade of marine turtles from the Coral Triangle over the past decade, the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have pledged stronger united efforts to fight against poaching of the marine animals through stricter local and transboundary law enforcement.
Joel Palma, World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Philippines vice president for Conservation said entire populations of marine turtles are being wiped out by persistent poaching, both targeted and as bycatch.
“As foreign fishing fleets are often involved, such inter-governmental collaboration is essential to strengthen local and transboundary law enforcement efforts to prevent marine turtles from being poached and traded for use as food and luxury items,” Palma said.
“We need to halt the illegal turtle trade once and for all, otherwise, the work of protecting nesting beaches and feeding grounds will be futile if thousands of turtles are being wiped out at sea,” he added.
The Indonesian, Malaysian, Philippine and Vietnamese governments pledged their commitment enforcing their local and trans-boundary law more strictly at a marine turtle trade workshop hosted by the Philippines last week.
“With the ongoing issue of poaching of marine turtles, the country recognizes the need for an integrated approach in addressing this challenge,” said Mundita Lim, Philippine Biodiversity Management Bureau Director.
“The alarming trend over the decade justifies the need for neighboring countries to make transboundary arrangements and improve the protection between national governments,” Lim added.
The workshop comes on the heels of the arrest of nine Chinese fishermen by Philippine authorities off the coast of Palawan just a month ago for carrying about 500 live and dead turtles on their boat. Authorities said the involvement of local Filipino fishermen in the incident suggests an organized trafficking practice that requires a trans-national response.
The other day, two local fishermen were intercepted by a coast guard patrol boat transporting a hawksbill sea turtle caught off the Santa Cruz Island near Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines.
The fishermen were brought to the Coast Guard headquarters and handed over to the maritime police on June 7. Meanwhile, the reptile was released to its natural habitat near Santa Cruz after being tagged for documentation. Agaton Baysa, a wildlife enforcement officer, estimated the age of the turtle to be about 10 years old.
Other poaching and trafficking incidents have also been reported from outside the Philippines, particularly in the important marine turtle range countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, and across the wider Coral Triangle region.
The Coral Triangle is home to six of the seven known species of marine turtles, including Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Flatback, Olive Ridley, and Leatherback.
Turtles are used mainly for food, souvenirs, jewelry and ornamentation, and in some traditional medicine production. The shells of Hawksbill Turtles (or bekko) have been used as ornaments and jewelry for many centuries, particularly associated with Japanese traditional craft.
“Aside from the local consumption of meat and eggs, demand for marine turtle shells and other derivative parts from market destinations, including mainland China and Taiwan, Japan and Vietnam is driving this trade,” said James Compton, TRAFFIC Senior Programme Director, Asia Pacific.
TRAFFIC said its research has identified the island Chinese province of Hainan as a major hub for the illegal trade in marine turtle products in China, and work over the past four years with Chinese government authorities and other local stakeholders has greatly increased the attention to market regulation and control.
“The need for inter-agency collaboration on this illegal trade is essential, including the navy and coast guards in a national task force approach, is essential to protect marine turtles in source countries,” added Compton. “Greater law enforcement effectiveness, including investigations and prosecution are important to increase deterrents against participating in wildlife crime.”
All international commercial trade in marine turtles is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
“This timely workshop shows that these source countries are paying attention to what’s happening to marine turtles around the region and that they all share the same challenges,” Palma said.
“Since turtles are transboundary in nature, protecting them requires a more cohesive and integrated approach. This workshop is a major step toward that direction,” he added.