WASHINGTON, DC (ENS) – Under a new law signed by President George W. Bush on Friday, sea turtles will be added to the list of species eligible for funding under the Multinational Species Conservation Fund. The Marine Turtle Conservation Act supports protection, research, and education efforts in developing countries where resources and capacity are limited. The bipartisan bill authorizes $5 million a year for international conservation projects protecting nesting sea turtles and their habitats.
“This law will assist us in addressing some of the most pressing sea turtle conservation issues,” Interior Secretary Gale Norton said. “As a direct result of funds made available by similar acts for elephants, tigers, rhinoceros, great apes and neotropical migratory birds, overseas wildlife researchers and managers are more effectively protecting their countries’ wildlife and habitat resources.”
Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration share jurisdiction for the conservation of marine turtles. The Service focuses conservation activities on nesting beaches, while NOAA works to conserve and recover turtles in their marine habitats. All six sea turtle species found in U.S. waters are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“Turtles depend on the oceans and nesting beaches of many nations to survive,” said Conrad Lautenbacher, Ph.D., Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. “This Act will reduce poaching, improve management and monitoring, and support local conservation efforts in areas of the world where needs are greatest.”
The Caribbean Conservation Corporation based in Gainesville, Florida has worked for over a year to ensure the passage of of the Marine Turtle Conservation Act.
Funds have not yet been appropriated to cover these activities but when they are, implementation of the Marine Turtle Conservation Act will be modeled on previous Multinational Species Conservation Act initiatives, the officials said. Each project funded under the Multinational Species Conservation Fund is a cooperative effort with foreign governments, nongovernmental organizations, or the private sector.
Advisory committees assist the Service in reviewing projects. The $25 million in federal funds provided to date under the Multinational Species Conservation Fund have been matched by over $80 million in contributions from approximately 500 partner organizations.
Less than 60 years ago, marine turtles were abundant, and widespread nesting on beaches was common, the Service said. But today the Kemp’s ridley, the olive ridley, the loggerhead, the leatherback, the hawksbill, and the green turtle all are listed as endangered. All are also listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) so that trade in their parts is prohibited.
Threats facing marine turtles include egg harvesting, poaching, trade in turtle parts and loss of habitat. In many cultures, people still harvest marine turtles and their eggs for food. Most countries have outlawed the killing of turtles and the taking of eggs, but resources for enforcement are inadequate.
Marydele Donnelly, a sea turtle biologist with The Ocean Conservancy who testified before Congress in April in support of the legislation, “Tonight, on beaches around the world, poachers armed with machetes will butcher turtles coming ashore to nest. Some of these animals will be 30-40 year old animals nesting for the very first time. By supporting international conservation efforts the bill will help curtail the illegal trade in sea turtle shell, meat and eggs.”