Story | 16 Sep, 2019

Combating Illegal Trade and Unsustainable Use of Sea Turtles at the CITES COP18

By Claire Saladin - Migratory sea turtles are suffering from an unprecedented decline. Interdisciplinary connections and analysis are aiming at improving the international cooperation between Multilateral Environmental Agreements, mitigating and opposing overexploitation and legal gaps responsible of biodiversity loss, and working attentively with Indigenous People, in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal 14 Life below water.

The 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was held in Geneva Switzerland from 17 to 28 August 2019. 

IUCN delegate and WCEL member Claire Saladin represented the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Wildlife Health Specialist Group (WHSG) at the Conference. The SSC-WHSG supported Draft Resolution 56 to simplify the process to create a network of reference laboratories as a means to enhance endangered species and livestock health.

The SSC-WHSG also support Draft Resolution 52 Introduction from the sea, to coordinate with the international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). 

CITES regulates introduction from the sea, defined as "transportation into a State of specimens of any species which were taken in the marine environment not under the jurisdiction of any State". Draft Resolution 52 seeks to improve awareness of introduction from the sea by government officials, including, fisheries and port inspectors. 

Due to their highly migratory nature, sea turtles are particularly threatened in the high seas. All seven species of sea turtles are currently listed as endangered (appendix I) under CITES. Although international commercial trade of sea turtles is prohibited, sea turtles are still harvested in many countries. Committee I Document 7 proposed stronger monitoring and reporting of turtle harvesting in the high seas. Specifically, the Draft Resolution calls for improved accountability to vessels, as well as improved monitoring at turtle-landing sites. Committee I Document 7 includes provisions for research of indigenous take. 

CITES COP18 resolutions concerning Sea Turtles also lead towards the enhancement of alternative sustainable livelihoods and appropriate species management plan implementation, including the possibility of the transition to the halt of sea turtle exploitation.

About the Author

Claire Saladin      

Claire Saladin, DVM, PhD, is a member of the the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) and the WCEL Oceans, Coasts, and Coral Reefs Specialist Group. She is also a member of the IUCN-SSC Wildlife Health Specialist Group. Claire’s interest in sea turtle conservation first developed as a child living in the Caribbean. She specializes in sea turtle conservation and mitigating illegal trade in the Caribbean Region. She coordinates Widecast network for the Caribbean Islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy FWI.