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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 03:20 GMT 04:20 UK
World's turtles 'still under threat'
hawksbill turtle on seabed
There are calls for hawksbills to be traded again
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Almost every species of marine turtle is in danger of extinction, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The group says that, despite decades of attempts to save them, six of the world's seven turtle species could disappear.

It is vital that developed countries live up to their own responsibilities for protecting the turtles.

David Cowdry
And even stable populations can never be considered completely safe, it says, because of over-exploitation and other threats.

WWF is opposing attempts at the Nairobi meeting of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) to reopen the trade in tortoiseshell.

This comes almost exclusively from the hawksbill turtle, which the World Conservation Union describes as critically endangered. The countries urging a trade resumption are Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Insufficient data

Elizabeth Kemf, of WWF, said: "We shouldn't be reopening the trade because controls in the main importing country, Japan, are inadequate.

hawksbill turtle swimming
No turtles are reckoned safe

"The state of the turtle populations in the Caribbean is unclear, and regional management is patchy.

"Hawksbills, like other marine turtles, are facing ever-growing numbers of threats."

Turtles around the world are sought for their shells, which are used in making jewellery, and for their skins to make leather.

WWF says: "There are recent reports of turtle leather cowboy boots being freely available in Tijuana, Mexico, and of rooms full of confiscated boots on the US border.

"Though trade in turtles is banned under Cites, they are still stuffed, varnished, mounted and sold openly as tourist curios in Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean."

Accidental death

The creatures are also often killed for their meat, and turtle eggs are valued as a source of protein in poor communities. In some countries they are considered an aphrodisiac.

Another threat is the fishing industry, WWF says. It says an unknown number of turtles - possibly as many as 300,000 annually - are caught and killed accidentally.

loggerhead turtle
Loggerheads are also at risk

WWF blames trawls, shrimp nets and longlines set for tuna and swordfish. And it claims there is strong international opposition to the use of turtle excluder devices, which keep turtles clear of the nets.

Tourism shares some of the responsibility for the turtles' plight. The building of hotels, seawalls, marinas and other tourist facilities has destroyed many turtle nesting sites.

Shared responsibilities

David Cowdry of WWF-UK told BBC News Online: "It is vital that developed countries live up to their own responsibilities for protecting the turtles.

"They need to control the trade in illegal wildlife items that people bring home from holiday. And they need to educate the people who do this, because they are fuelling the trade.

"Most of the countries with turtle populations are doing something to protect them. But at the end of the day, still more needs to be done."

All hawksbill photos by WWF.

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See also:

04 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Asian turtle crisis
30 Nov 99 | Americas
Tourism protects Surinam's turtles
27 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Turtles in the soup
20 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Long-distance turtles log a record
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