Despite having survived in the oceans for over a 100 million years, marine turtles are now a highly threatened group of animals. The threats to marine turtles are numerous and include incidental capture in prawn trawl nets and on longline fishing hooks, entanglement in marine debris, degradation and disturbance of coastal breeding habitats, disease, traditional harvesting and drowning in shark control nets and drum lines. Even though it is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), international trade often occurs illegally and is also a major threat. Read on to find out how HSI is working hard to protect marine turtles in Australia and around the world.
Marine Turtles Caught up in Fisheries
The global push to address turtle bycatch in trawl fisheries was prompted by a United States import ban on prawns from trawl fisheries that do not use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). The prawn import ban was brought on by a coalition of conservation groups in the United States, including HSI's parent organisation the Humane Society of the United States. The groups took the U.S. Government to court for not enforcing endangered species legislation which prevents the U.S. Government taking actions that hurt listed endangered species even overseas. As the U.S. is a major importer this was a blow to prawn fisheries around the world and has forced them to take the issue of turtle bycatch seriously.
HSI is also concerned that marine turtles get caught on longline fishing hooks used to catch tuna and billfish. We have called for longline fishing closures in areas of high risk for turtle bycatch.
Protection efforts in Indonesia
HSI gives financial support to the Indonesian conservation group Pro Fauna (formerly called KSBK or Animal Conservation for Life). Pro Fauna campaigners work fearlessly in difficult political circumstances to protest against the illegal trade in turtles on the island of Bali. All species of turtle are protected from international trade under CITES, and they are also protected under local Bali and Indonesian laws. Yet thousands of turtles are still slaughtered on the island to meet the demand for shell trinkets in the tourist markets and turtle soup in the restaurants. There is also a market for turtle products in places like Japan. Traditionally methods of slaughtering turtles are gruesome with the animal kept alive and fresh for as long as possible as it bleeds to death.
In 2001 Pro Fauna and the Indonesian Forestry Department recovered 258 green turtles from holding pens where they were waiting slaughter and successfully returned them to the wild. Pro Fauna has told HSI that persistent letters from our supporters have increased the pressure on Indonesian authorities to take further action against illegal turtle traders.
At the end of 2010, HSI supported ProFauna in
conducting investigations into the illegal trade of turtle eggs occurring
openly in Kalimantan, Indonesia. ProFauna sent teams to locations within the
four provinces of Kalimantan to survey illegal
trade activities, including sites where eggs were sold and harvested. Findings from the Report, the Trade of Sea Turtle
Eggs in Kalimantan, confirmed that the illegal trade of turtle eggs remains a
lucrative market in Kalimantan. Overall, the report estimated that
approximately 100,000 turtle eggs are illegally traded in Kalimantan
every month. It clearly shows that in
order to secure the survival of Indonesia’s
marine turtle populations, the illegal trade of turtle eggs in Kalimantan needs to be brought under control.
The Trade of Sea Turtle Eggs in
Kalimantan report has proven invaluable as ProFauna and HSI have successfully
used it to lobby the Indonesian government for stricter law enforcement
efforts. Having already shown commitment
to ending the illegal trade of turtle eggs across Indonesia,
the government recently invited ProFauna to take part in discussions on the matter
in Jakarta. As a result, the government of Indonesia responded positively to ProFauna's
report and HSI's correspondence about the illegal trade of sea turtle eggs in Kalimantan. They
stated that they would take actions to stop the trade, and persist with meetings
to discuss detailed action plans to tackle the illegal trade of sea turtle eggs
To read the Trade of Sea Turtle Eggs in
Kalimantan report, click here.
To report is also available in a video
Protection efforts in Australia
Australia is lucky enough to have six of the world's seven species of marine turtle (loggerhead, green, hawksbill, leatherback, olive ridley and flatback). All six are listed on Australian laws as threatened with extinction. HSI is a member of the Federal Government's Recovery Team and pushes for strong protective measures, including strict protection for turtle critical habitat sites.
A HSI nomination in 1995 to list 'prawn trawling' as a Key Threatening Process was key to the campaign to see Turtle Excluder Devices implemented in prawn trawl fisheries around Australia. The nomination, coupled with the U.S. ban on the import of prawns from trawl fisheries that do not use Turtle Excluder Devices, placed serious pressure on the Australian prawn industry to address the problem of turtle bycatch. TEDs are slowly becoming mandatory in Australian trawl fisheries.
We remain concerned at turtle entanglement and ingestion of marine debris and the capture of turtles in shark control nets and drumlines and have nominated both threatening processes for listing under Federal environment laws. We have called for bans on longline fishing in areas of high risk for turtle bycatch. We are also concerned that with marine turtles facing threats on so many fronts, levels of traditional harvesting of turtles are unsustainable.
Protection in the Northern Territory
Every year, with the onset of south easterly dry season winds in the Gulf of Carpentaria, marine turtles begin to die. Starting around late March, early April, these winds bring large amounts of marine debris hurtling towards the Northern Territory coastline, entangling and often killing endangered marine turtles in the process. Green, Hawksbill, Flatback (endemic to Australia) and Olive Ridley Turtles, all fall foul of human marine debris and particularly discarded nets from Indonesian fishing fleets.
The Dhimurru, from North East Arnhem Land, through the Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation, have been working for a number of years to reduce turtle deaths, undertaking helicopter-based monitoring, scour the coastline of NE Arnhem Land, disentangling and rescuing threatened marine turtles. HSI has been making a financial contribution to help the Dhimurru carry out this essential rescue operation.
Securing Marine Turtle Protection through International Treaties
HSI campaigners work hard at international treaty meetings to protect turtles. At every meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), one or two governments inevitably seek permission to trade in marine turtle products. HSI is always at those meetings lobbying to ensure that all populations of marine turtle remain firmly listed on Appendix I so that international trade remains illegal.
We have also helped negotiate a regional Memorandum of Understanding on turtle conservation between the countries of the Indian Oceans and South East Asia, in an advisory role on the Australian Government delegations. The Indian Ocean and South East Asian (IOSEA) Marine Turtle MOU, negotiated under the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS), is an agreement for all signatory countries to cooperate to protect turtles from bycatch in fisheries, disease, marine debris, habitat degradation and unsustainable harvesting. The signatory countries now meet annually and HSI attends the meetings, usually as an adviser on the Australian delegation.
As the US import ban was also challenged at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), HSI has had lawyers engaged in that treaty to defend the US government's right to instate the ban.
Image courtesy of Craig Williams