Costa Rican Sea Turtle Conservation Network Confiscates Illegal Hawksbill Turtle Jewelry

Date: January 3, 2002
Contact: Roxana Silman
Phone: INT+506-297-5510

SAN JOSÉ, COSTA RICA – The Costa Rican Sea Turtle Conservation Network, under the coordination of Didiher Chacón of Asociación ANAI/WIDECAST, and in collaboration with officers from the Ministry of the Environment and the National Coastguard, have confiscated more than 2,700 hawksbill jewelry items from local artisans, in two separate operations; one in downtown San José on December 4 and the other in the port city of Puntarenas on December 22, 2001. Roxana Silman of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and Randall Arauz of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project served as experts to identify hawksbill products. These operations were the latest actions, which preceded an education campaign targeting local artisans warning them of the endangered status of hawksbill turtles and the illegal nature of this activity under Costa Rican legislation.Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered and are protected under national laws of nations throughout the world, and their sale internationally is restricted. These ancient animals have survived on Earth for about 100 million years, and may take 20 or more years to reach sexual maturity. The beautiful shell of these turtles is known as “tortoisehell”, historically used to make combs, jewelry and other trinkets. The killing of these animals has been banned in most of the world to protect them from being hunted into extinction.

Prior to these operations, local artisans were interviewed. “Most of the artisans acknowledged that they knew the activity was illegal, but showed no concern”, said Isabel Naranjo, of Asociacióón PRETOMA. “Local artisans claim that most of these products are imported from Nicaragua, and their clients include Costa Ricans and tourists from the USA and Europe, clearly in violation of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES)”, Naranjo said.”Costa Rica has actively opposed recent attempts to downlist hawksbill turtles at CITES, which would allow Cuba to legally slaughter 500 critically endangered hawksbill turtles, to be sold to Japan for the manufacture of trinkets”, said Didiher Chacóón. “As such, Costa Rica should also set an example by stopping all illegal commerce of hawksbill products within our own borders in accordance with our laws; the open and illegal commerce of hawksbill products in Costa Rica is a shame to our authorities” declared Chacóón. “We will continue with these operations in coordination with the local responsible authorities, and additional efforts will be directed towards a campaign to promote “hawksbill free” artisan shops by means of an ecolabel and certification, supplemented with a plea to domestic and foreign tourists NOT to buy hawksbill products”, he informed. These activities are part of a project supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and IFAW.

According to Randall Arauz, “The current hawksbill exploitation levels throughout Centralamerica are definitely not sustainable. Although all Centralamerican countries have legislation that clearly prohibits trade in hawksbill shell, there is little or no political will to enforce the legislation and the hawksbill products are processed and sold on a massive scale both domestically and internationally,” he stated. “We hope that other Centralamerican countries will follow the example and ensure that their national laws protecting sea turtles are stringently enforced,” urged Arauz.One of the hottest issues discussed during the recent CITES meeting in Kenya, Africa, 2000, was the Cuban proposal to downlist the hawksbill turtle from Appendix 1 to Appendix 2 of CITES allowing international commerce from Cuba to Japan. The Cuban proposal is based on studies that conclude that the harvest is sustainable.

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.