Trade in Turtles and Turtle Parts

Turtle eggs are widely collected and eaten throughout South East Asia with serious consequences to turtle populations. For example, exhaustive egg collection was a major contribution to the almost complete extinction of the leatherback population nesting at Terengganu beaches, in Malaysia.
The reasons behind these high levels of egg collection are complex and include:
  • a lack of suitable nutritional alternatives for the local communities
  • cultural and religious practices - for example the belief in aphrodisiac or medicinal properties of turtle eggs
  • the presence of a lucrative, mostly locally-based industry based on selling eggs.

At the international level, another serious trade threat is that of shells and stuffed whole turtles. Hawksbill turtle carapaces are the only source of tortoise-shell (also known as bekko or carey) and the species has declined dramatically over the last 50 years as the demand for tortoiseshell escalated.

Rampant turtle trade continues despite prohibition
There is also a sizeable market for turtle leather products, and curios of stuffed whole turtles. Although international trade in all marine turtle species is now prohibited amongst the more than 160 countries of CITES - the Convention on International Trade of Wild Species of Fauna and Flora - a large volume of illegal trade still occurs.

To effectively curb the supply and demand of the illegal trade, it is necessary to work with both producer and consumer countries in a coordinated strategy. TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network, organised and operated as a joint programme by and between WWF and IUCN, has conducted several investigations into marine turtle trade within South East Asia and found the trade levels are still significant.

WWF and TRAFFIC will continue to work together to develop a sub-regional strategy to address this trade. It will be principally focused on green and hawksbill turtles and will address both domestic and international trade by:

  • Enhancing the capacity of national governments to enforce CITES regulations and domestic species legislation;

  • Investigating opportunities for communities presently reliant on turtle egg and meat collection to find economically and culturally viable protein alternatives; and

  • Developing management plans for limited egg and meat collection where this is feasible, sustainable and well regulated.
Balinese sea turtle traders, Indonesia. / ©: WWF-Canon / Jürgen FREUND
Balinese sea turtle traders, Indonesia.
© WWF-Canon / Jürgen FREUND

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