International Agreement for the Conservation of Caribbean Sea Turtles Signed by Central American Presidents

Spring 1998 Issue Articles:

* International Agreement for the Conservation of Caribbean Sea Turtles Signed
* Snapper Sighted!
* Encouraging Trend Found at Tortuguero, Costa Rica

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International Agreement for the Conservation of Caribbean Sea Turtles Signed by Central American Presidents

By Cindy Taft, Director of International Programs

The Cooperative Agreement for the Conservation of Sea Turtles of the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama, otherwise known as the Tripartite Agreement, was signed by the Presidents of Costa Rica and Panama on Friday, May 8, 1998. The signing ceremony, which was attended by several staff and Board members of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, took place during the inauguration ceremonies for Costa Rica’s newly elected President, Miguel Angel Rodríguez. The President of Nicaragua did not attend the ceremony; however, it is anticipated that Nicaragua will sign the Agreement in the very near future.

For the past four years, CCC, the Mesoamerican Environmental Law Program (MELP) at the Uni-versity of Florida, the National Resource Law Center of San Jose, Costa Rica, the Center for International Environmental Law, Central American government officials, indigenous peoples and sea turtle specialists have been working together to develop a model agreement for the regional management of Caribbean sea turtles. A draft of the agreement was completed in 1997. Since then, the CCC and MELP, with assistance from the Wildlife Conservation Society and funding from USAID, have facilitated a series of negotiation workshops involving natural resource managers from each of the three countries. The negotiations reached a successful conclusion recently in Panama, and the final agreement was forwarded to the Presidents of each country for signing.

“This is a fantastic achievement for the protection of Caribbean green turtles,” said CCC Executive Director David Godfrey. “The countries that signed the agreement should be strongly commended for taking this bold step. CCC is extremely honored to have participated in this process, and we look forward to assisting the countries in implementing the various elements of the agreement.”

Sea turtles are highly migratory and move many hundreds of miles between nesting and feeding areas. Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama possess some of the most important marine and nesting habitats for sea turtles in the world and share populations of green turtles, leatherbacks and hawksbills. For the Caribbean green turtle (Chelonia mydas), Nicaragua’s Miskito Cays provide the feeding grounds; Panama’s coast provides courtship areas, developmental habitats and a migration corridor; and Costa Rica’s Tortuguero beach hosts the largest green turtle nesting colony in the hemisphere.

Green turtles have been heavily exploited for their meat and eggs for hundreds of years. The impact of this systematic harvest, in combination with newer threats such as incidental capture in commercial fishing nets and trawls, marine pollution, and the loss of nesting habitat to coastal development, has resulted in the reduction of the numbers of Caribbean green turtles by as much as 99% since the time of Columbus, according to some researchers. Even so, today there are indigenous groups and other coastal dwellers that still rely on green turtles for food. But turtle numbers are dwindling while the coastal community human populations are increasing, and the potential for people’s future reliance on the green turtle as a resource for food is in jeopardy.

The need for cooperative management of Caribbean sea turtles between the three nations has been recognized for more than 30 years. CCC’s first technical director and renowned sea turtle specialist Dr. Archie Carr, and his Costa Rican colleague Guillermo “Billy” Cruz, helped convince natural resource management and fishery officials from the three countries to sign a tri-national agreement for the protection of sea turtles in 1969. But the process broke down before the agreement could be ratified when Nicaragua acquired funding for the construction of three processing plants to prepare green turtle meat for export. Legal export of sea turtles and their derivatives ceased in 1975, but current harvest levels for subsistence use now rival those from the days when green turtles supplied a global market with meat and soup. The need for international cooperation in sea turtle management is still required, as there would be little incentive for one nation to protect turtles that are then harvested without restraint after they migrate across borders.

The new cooperative agreement requires the Parties to work together to protect sea turtle habitats–marine habitats as well as nesting beaches–and to develop and execute a Regional Management Plan to provide guidelines and criteria for a tri-national protected area system for the turtles. This will effectively establish a coastal and marine biological corridor or “blueway” in the western Caribbean for sea turtles.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the new agreement,” says Cindy Taft, CCC’s Director of International Programs, “is that it will establish a means whereby all stakeholders in the shared sea turtle resource–user groups and conservationists alike–will have a voice in the decision-making process for sea turtle management.”

Related to the International Agreement for the Conservation of Caribbean Sea Turtles (Tripartite Agreement) is the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles which promotes regional accords such as the Tripartite Agreement. The Inter-American Agreement is the only international treaty AT A HEMISPHERIC LEVEL dedicated exclusively to sea turtles, and as such has been vigorously supported by many members of the sea turtle community, particularly specialists from Latin America.

Tripartite Agreement  English   |  Español
(Note: the English version is a preliminary and unofficial translation of the document.)

For more information on the Tripartite Agreement, check out the contact STC at (352) 373-6441, by E-mail at