Paper protection not enough for Vietnam's marine turtles

Date May 27, 2009

Whole, stuffed marine turtles for sale in An Dong Market in Ho Chi Minh City © Dan Stiles/Traffic South East Asia

Whole, stuffed marine turtles for sale in An Dong Market in Ho Chi Minh City © Dan Stiles/Traffic South East Asia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Marine turtles are vanishing from Vietnam’s waters and illegal trade is largely to blame says a new study by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

An assessment of the marine turtle trade in Vietnam, launched to mark World Turtle Day found that large marine turtles are now virtually absent from Viet Nam’s waters except for Green Turtles around the Con Dao Islands National Park.

A government-owned souvenir shop found selling illegal turtle products was a potent symbol of how a national ban on turtle products enacted in 2002 has been undermined by a lack of enforcement.

Traders in all Vietnam’s coastal localities reported that catches of local marine turtles, especially Hawksbill Turtles, were becoming rare, and even the few caught were smaller than in previous years.

“Without effective enforcement of the laws, the future for marine turtles in Vietnamese waters looks very bleak.” says Tom Osborn, Acting Director of TRAFFIC’s Greater Mekong Programme.

A 2002 TRAFFIC study found that trade in marine turtles had extended into a large-scale wholesale export market and a Ministry of Fisheries report estimated the combined take across the entire Vietnamese coastline at 4,000 marine turtles annually.

Shortly after these surveys, the Vietnam Government prohibited the exploitation of marine turtles but the current TRAFFIC survey finds the trade has continued, though at a reduced rate.

Government enforcement of illegal marine turtle catching, processing and trade has been uneven at best—evidenced by a great decrease in the number of outlets and marine turtle products on display in some areas and an increase in others, particularly in some newly developing tourist areas.

In Ha Tien and Ho Chi Minh City, traders cited Indonesia and Malaysia as their main sources of turtles and raw scutes (the large scales on the turtle’s carapace or shell).

All international trade in marine turtles is banned under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Already threatened by habitat degradation, accidental or opportunistic capture by fishermen and the direct take of nesting females and their eggs, whole turtles are also stuffed and, in the case of Hawksbill Turtles, their shells turned into jewellery, fans and handbags, known as bekko.

According to the report, a lack of product more than law enforcement explains the steady downturn in the number of outlets selling marine turtle products.

Green Turtle meat was rarer than in 2002, and its price had increased significantly compared with those recorded during a 2002 TRAFFIC survey. In a Ha Tien market, after allowing for inflation, its price had more than doubled by 2008, pushing it into the luxury meat category.

However, in some towns, the study found bekko workshops and stores, including a government-owned souvenir shop, selling hundreds of marine turtle products operating in plain view of authorities.

The study found that businessmen in some areas were aware that it was illegal to capture, process and sell marine turtle products but there had been no action taken to confiscate or destroy the illegal items on sale.

The study said that most indicators pointed towards a falling demand, but vendors continued to report good sales for most marine turtle products indicating that the trade still posed a serious threat.

The study recommends that authorities look into finding alternative sources of income for communities dependent on the sale of marine turtle products, expand existing awareness programmes and confiscate and destroy all marine turtle products that remain on sale.

Download: An assessment of the marine turtle products trade in Vietnam

Source: WWF

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