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Victory for endangered Green turtles at UN CITES meeting

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Santiago, Chile - Conservation groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW-www.ifaw.org), applauded a decision taken today by Parties to the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) not to allow a Cayman Island turtle farm and tourist attraction, to sell turtles from endangered green turtles to tourists for export. The proposal had led to much criticism of the U.K., which had submitted the application on behalf of the Cayman Islands.

The application failed to meet the two-thirds vote required to be passed, earning 38 votes for and 24 votes against, with a disappointing 48 Parties abstaining, including European Union nations to which nations and organizations in opposition of the application had looked for support.

The application had raised serious concerns amongst conservationists and some governments -- including the range states of Israel, U.S., Mexico, Barbados, Bahamas, Fiji, and Saudi Arabia, -- because, in part, it failed to demonstrate that all of the farm's original green turtle stock was legally sourced. One of the original stocks was from Costa Rica. A November 6, 2002 letter from Costa Rica's Minister of the Environment, Mr. Carlos Manuel Rodrigues Echandi to CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers, confirmed that the farm's Costa Rican stock was not legal, noting, "since September 7, 1970 through Executive Decree 1235-A and supported by current legislation in Costa Rica, the taking of sea turtles, fishing, collection, extraction of eggs or of any other product or sub product of these species is illegal."

Critics of the application, including IFAW, the world's leading international animal welfare and conservation organization, were pleased with the application's defeat, and also noted that the sale of green turtle shells to tourists for export would have encouraged further illegal trade and poaching in the Caribbean region.

Sarah Tyack, IFAW Campaign Manager, who is a member of IFAW's delegation to the CITES meeting in Santiago said, "Despite very valid concerns being raised from around the world and specifically in the Caribbean region by green turtle range states, the U.K. has persisted in pursuing this application. We're pleased that the Parties to CITES have remained true to the spirit and intent of the Convention, have acted in the interests of long-term conservation of the green turtle throughout the Caribbean, and prevented the re-opening of international trade in green turtle shell from the Cayman Islands."

Background information:

The U.K., on behalf of the Cayman Islands, submitted an application to register a green turtle farm on Grand Cayman as a "captive breeding facility" under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The principle purpose of the Cayman Turtle Farm is to breed green turtles Chelonia mydas) for tourism and local consumption. The application is to allow for the sale of the green turtle carapaces to tourists as a by-product of the turtles slaughtered for consumption. Green turtles are listed on Appendix I under CITES which means that international trade in their parts is banned.

The application was based on the premise that the green turtles on the farm can be defined as "bred in captivity" under the criteria laid out under CITES Resolution Conf 10.16.

Concerns with the farm

International trade in the green turtle shell would encourage illegal turtle trade in the region.

Regional populations of Chelonia mydas have been severely depleted by trade historically and the animal is now listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The risk of re-opening this trade given the high vulnerability of green turtle populations is too great to justify the application.

It has not been demonstrated that the CITES criteria for captive breeding has been met. It is also required that the operation be founded entirely on legally acquired stock. But, the 6 November 2002 letter from Costa Rica's Minister of Environment to CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers confirmed that the Costa Rica sourced stock was not legal. There is no information about non-detriment findings from the Suriname and Guyana rookeries where some of the founder stock was required. There is no peer- reviewed evidence that the farm is capable of producing F2 generation turtles, e.g. turtles born from two captive bred turtles.

There is no evidence that this operation will benefit the conservation of green turtles in the region. The application does not present data that shows that previous turtle releases from the farm have benefited the conservation of the species. There is also a risk that the re-introduced hatchlings carry diseases to the wild population and it is unclear whether the released turtle would re-produce at all and if so what the impacts would be on the wild stock genetically.

- To learn more about IFAW visit www.ifaw.org

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) works to improve the welfare of wild and domestic animals throughout the world by reducing commercial exploitation of animals, protecting wildlife habitats and assisting animals in distress. IFAW seeks to motivate the public to prevent cruelty to animals and to promote animal welfare and conservation policies that advance the well being of both animals and people.

EDITORS' ADVISORY: For more information about IFAW's global campaigns and CITES visit www.ifaw.org. For a copy of the original letter from Costa Rica's Ministry of the Environment, please use the contacts below.

SOURCE International Fund for Animal Welfare



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