Looking around & within: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam join forces to crack down on marine turtle trade



Posted on 12 August 2014  | 
Hawksbill turtle
© naturepl.com / Doug Perrine / WWFEnlarge
In a bid to respond to marine turtle trafficking at a scale that can slow down the trade, government representatives from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam made an unambiguous commitment to improve intergovernmental cooperation on this issue across the Coral Triangle.

The commitment, made at a marine turtle trade workshop funded by WWF, run by TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and hosted by the Government of the Philippines on 3-4 June 2014, is significant because it looks at the turtle trade issue from within national territories, where local enforcement has gaps.

Turtle trade has grown systematic over the years, greatly “assisted” by local involvement and the weaknesses in law enforcement in “source” countries’ own waters. It’s not enough to work with “demand” countries that are fuelling the trade; stopping the poaching of turtles needs to be supplemented by “source” countries also enforcing their own wildlife laws.

The workshop gave participants the opportunity to understand what role they play, mostly unwittingly, in making it possible for turtles to be poached in the first place, and to come up with collaborative measures to deal a permanent blow to this trade once and for all.

Though not directly connected with the Indian Ocean - South-East Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding (IOSEA), this workshop fits within that framework and hopes to strengthen intergovernmental cooperation specifically among Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines, including Viet Nam.

“Entire populations of marine turtles are being wiped out by persistent poaching, both targeted and as bycatch,” said Joel Palma, WWF-Philippines Vice President for Conservation. “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,” added Palma.

The workshop comes on the heels of a recent incident when Philippine authorities arrested nine Chinese fishermen off the coast of Palawan just a month ago for carrying about 500 live and dead turtles on their boat. Involvement of local Filipino fishermen in the incident suggests a higher degree of organised supply and trafficking that requires a trans-national response.

This is just one of the numerous poaching and trafficking incidents that have happened not only in the Philippines but also in important marine turtle range countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Viet Nam, and across the wider Coral Triangle region.

“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,” said Palma.

“Aside from local consumption of meat and eggs, the demand for marine turtle shell and other derivative parts from market destinations including mainland China and Taiwan, Japan and Viet Nam is driving this trade,” said James Compton, TRAFFIC Senior Programme Director, Asia Pacific.

Research by TRAFFIC has identified the island 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. As of mid-2014, the public campaign conducted by TRAFFIC in Hainan led to an increase in awareness on the ill effects of turtle trade among consumers by as much as 50%.

The Coral Triangle is home to six of the seven known species of marine turtles including Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Flatback, Olive Ridley, and Leatherback. All international commercial trade in marine turtles is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Adapted from TRAFFIC.org
Hawksbill turtle
© naturepl.com / Doug Perrine / WWF Enlarge

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