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UK to investigate Turtle exploitation overseas

“A ground-breaking project to investigate the exploitation of endangered marine turtle populations in the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories is launched today by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the University of Wales and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

DEFRA are contributing ??145,000 to the 3-year project, which is spearheaded by the University of Wales’s Marine Turtle Research Group in association with MCS3. The research will involve a coalition of organisations and will focus on turtles found in the UK Overseas Territories of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

“”This initiative shows the government commitment to fulfilling its responsibility towards global conservation of critically endangered species”” said Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley, “”It’s the first time we have given significant funding to research the marine turtle populations found in the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories.””

Four species of marine turtle regularly nest on the beaches, or feed in the waters, of the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories, including the critically endangered hawksbill turtle and the endangered green turtle. For centuries the hawksbill has been hunted in the Caribbean for its beautiful shell, used to make ‘tortoiseshell’, while Caribbean populations of the green turtle were decimated to supply Europe’s insatiable appetite for turtle soup.

Despite a ban on all international trade in marine turtle products under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1977, tortoiseshell items continue to be illegally traded in the Caribbean, where unsuspecting tourists provide the main market, while four Territories still allow legal, subsistence-level turtle harvests.

The project team aim to work with local expertise and help establish long-term research programmes in each Territory. Through exhaustive field surveys and genetic stock analysis the team will assess the status of the marine turtle populations at nesting beaches and marine foraging grounds, while evaluating legal and illegal turtle harvests through socio-economic surveys.

“”Through this project we aim to understand the local, cultural and economic importance of turtle harvests in the Overseas Territories and begin to assess their impact on regional turtle populations”” said Dr Brendan Godley of the Marine Turtle Research Group, “”In three years time we hope to be in a position to make recommendations for the conservation and management of Caribbean turtle populations””.

DEFRA allocated funding for this research in recognition of the need for regional, cooperative management of Caribbean hawksbill populations after Cuba’s proposal to reopen international trade in hawksbills turtles was rejected at a CITES meeting last year.

“”Little is known about the marine turtle populations inhabiting the UK
Overseas Territories, but we do know that some populations are close to extinction”” said Peter Richardson, MCS Species Policy Officer, “”These populations won’t recover overnight, in fact it takes years to implement effective, long-term recovery programmes. But this UK initiative is a very welcome first step towards a brighter future for turtles in the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories””.

For further information and photographs please contact:

Peter Richardson, Species Policy Officer,
Sue Ranger, Wildlife Projects Officer
Marine Conservation Society, 9 Gloucester Road, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire
Tel: 01989-565142/ 566923/ 566017
Mobiles: 07855 071008/ 07811 754342
Dr. Brendan Godley, Dr. Annette Broderick
Marine Turtle Research Group
University of Wales, Swansea SA2 8PP
Tel: +44 1792 554139
Fax: +44 1792 295 447″

Stephan Whelan
Stephan Whelan
Stephan is the Founder of His passion for the underwater world started at 8 years old with a try-dive in a hotel pool on holiday that soon formulated into a lifelong love affair with the oceans. In 1996 he set up and has grown the site to be the most popular diving website and community in the world.