Would Help End Runaway Harvest of Turtles in Eastern United States
WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–November 9 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will propose three species of U.S. freshwater turtles for protection at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Thailand in 2013. Today’s announcement responds to a 2011 petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity that asked the Service to help end the destructive international trade in American freshwater turtles. Millions of wild freshwater turtles are caught in the United States every year and exported.
“Turtle traders are depleting U.S. turtle populations at a frightening rate. It’s got to stop soon or we’re going to lose these incredible animals from the wild,” said the Center’s Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney and biologist who works to save endangered reptiles and amphibians. “Commercial harvesting only compounds the daily problems native turtles already face from habitat loss, water pollution and road mortality.”
More than 2 million wild-caught, live turtles are exported from the United States each year. Most are used to supply food and medicinal markets in Asia, where turtle consumption rates have soared despite the fact that native turtle populations have already been killed off. Adult turtles are also taken from the wild to breed hatchlings for the international pet trade.
Overharvest has caused population declines in almost all turtle species, with many now either protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Act or under consideration for such protection. For example, the beautiful spotted turtle — one of 53 species of amphibians and reptiles included in a recent Endangered Species Act listing petition filed by the Center — has suffered sharp declines because of overcollection for the pet trade.
“I’m so pleased that the United States is acting to save our freshwater turtles,” said Adkins Giese. “International protection from exploitation is vital for the survival of wild freshwater turtles across the country.”
The list of species announced today by the Service contains three species of U.S. turtles being considered for CITES Appendix II, including the spotted turtle, Blanding’s turtle and diamondback terrapin, all of which the Center recommended in its 2011 petition. When turtles are added to CITES Appendix II, their international trade is regulated by a system in which permits are issued only when trade has been determined to be nondetrimental to species survival. CITES-listed species are also subject to mandatory reporting requirements.
The Service, which has already received more than 25,000 comments supporting trade restrictions for the North American turtles, is opening another public comment period on its species proposals for the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (“CoP16”), which will be held in March 2013 in Thailand.
The United States is a turtle biodiversity hotspot, home to more types of turtles than any other country in the world. As part of a campaign to protect this rich natural heritage, the Center in 2008 and 2009 petitioned states with unrestricted commercial turtle harvest to improve harvest regulations. In 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial harvest of freshwater turtles from public and private waters; earlier this year Georgia approved state rules regulating the commercial harvest of turtles, while Alabama completely banned commercial harvests. The Center has also petitioned to list several species of imperiled freshwater turtles under the Endangered Species Act.
For more information about the Center’s campaign to stop the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis, please visit http://BiologicalDiversity.org/herps.