Cayman Islands Hatches Scheme to Export Endangered Sea Turtle Products

Date: November 7, 2002
Contact: David Godfrey
Phone: (325) 373-6441

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA – Officials in the Cayman Islands have hatched a plan to export products made from endangered sea turtles. Since the 1970s, international trade of sea turtles has been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES); however, CITES delegates are meeting now through November 15 to consider proposed changes to the rules governing endangered species trade.

One of the proposals under consideration would designate the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm as a captive-breeding facility for green turtles. Products made from sea turtles raised at the farm then could be exported internationally. To designate the farm as a captive-breeding facility, CITES delegates must conclude that the Cayman Farm benefits wild sea turtle populations. Sea turtle advocates, including the world’s oldest sea turtle protection group (Caribbean Conservation Corporation) are strongly opposed to the proposal. They argue the Cayman Farm actually harms wild sea turtle populations and that legalizing trade would stimulate new markets for sea turtle products and put more pressure on wild populations by encouraging illegal poaching.

“If this proposal passes, sea turtle conservation would revert to the dark ages, when green turtles were being wiped off the planet to feed markets in America and Europe,” said CCC executive director David Godfrey. “It’s not worth wiping out a species to let tourists bring home stuffed baby turtles to hang on their walls.”

The debate over this issue is raging on now in Santiago, Chile, where CITES delegates have convened their 12th Conference of the Parties. Representatives from CCC and other wildlife protection groups are at the conference explaining to CITES delegates how the Cayman Islands proposal would jeopardize wild sea turtles around the world.

Since its founding in 1959, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation has dedicated itself to studying and protecting sea turtles, especially the green turtle. CCC’s formation was inspired out of concern over the rapid decline of green turtles occurring as a result of over-harvesting. At the time, green turtles were under great pressure due to worldwide demand for green turtle shell and meat.

In the 1970s, CITES banned trade in sea turtle products. The ban eased worldwide pressure on green turtles. These international sanctions, combined with ongoing conservation Programs, have helped stabilize green turtle populations in many parts of the Caribbean. Recent CCC data show that green turtle nesting at Tortuguero, Costa Rica, has been increasing. Similar trends are being documented at nesting sites in the U.S.

Godfrey is worried that progress made toward the recovery of green turtles would be jeopardized if international trade is reopened.

“Even though legal trade would be limited to just those turtles raised at the Cayman Turtle Farm,” Godfrey said, “the pressure in poorer countries to start illegally harvesting would be too great — especially as international demand for turtle products is rekindled.”

CCC is encouraging people to voice their opposition to the Cayman proposal. CCC created a web site ( dedicated to the issue with information about how people can voice their own concerns to CITES delegates. There is also a sample letter that can be sent to the UK Deligation.

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The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in Florida with offices and projects in several other locations. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. To achieve its mission, the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools. These tools are applied in both international and domestic programs focusing on geographic areas that are globally important to sea turtle survival. For more information, visit the STC website or call (800) 678-7853.