Negotiations Begin on Tripartite Sea Turtle Agreement

Fall 1997 Issue Articles:

* Negotiations Begin on Tripartite Sea Turtle Agreement
* CCC Hosts Central American Sea Turtle Workshop

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Negotiations Begin on Tripartite Sea Turtle Agreement

By Cindy Taft, Director of International Programs

CCC hosted the first meeting of natural resource management policy-makers from Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua to discuss an international agreement for the collaborative conservation of Caribbean sea turtles by these three nations. The meeting was held in San José, Costa Rica on December 3 and was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development through the PROARCA/CAPAS program.

Tortuguero’s green sea turtles will be better protected with the establishment of the Tripartite Agreement.

The latest draft of the “Agreement for the Conservation of Sea Turtles on the Caribbean Coast of Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua”, known as the “Tripartite Agreement”, was presented to the participants of the Regional Workshop for Sea Turtle Conservation in Central America at CCC’s Tortuguero field station in September 1997. The agreement, prepared by CCC in collaboration with the Centro de Derecho Ambiental y de los Recursos Naturales (CEDARENA), the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), and the Center for Governmental Responsibility of the University of Florida College of Law with financial support from the Homeland Foundation, was endorsed by the attending sea turtle specialists and conservationists. A resolution calling for the governments, communities, non-governmental organizations and other institutions in the three nations to initiate the revision of the cooperative document and to consolidate joint actions for the recuperation of sea turtles was prepared and signed by the workshop participants. The resolution also urged other governments of the region to join in the cooperative agreement.

The agreement seeks to establish a foundation for regional cooperation in the management of the “shared resource”— the legal term applied to species that migrate across political boundaries. It is hoped that the agreement will become a model subregional agreement for conservation that is based on the biological requirements of the sea turtles that inhabit the Caribbean coast of Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The Tripartite is also designed as a means to implement the recently negotiated Inter-American Convention on Sea Turtle Conservation (the Salvador Convention).

The Salvador Convention is a hemispheric initiative that promotes “the protection, conservation and recovery of sea turtle populations and of the habitats on which they depend, based on the best available scientific information, taking into account the environmental, socio-economic and cultural characteristics of the Parties.” The Convention has provisions for the major threats affecting sea turtles today including habitat destruction, harvesting of turtles and eggs, and accidental capture in fisheries. Negotiations for the Convention were concluded in late 1996, and to date, six nations have become signatories, including Costa Rica and Nicaragua. However, none of the signatory nations have ratified the Convention as yet.

The Salvador Convention also calls for Parties to establish mutually agreed upon regional or subregional management plans, of which the Tripartite would be the first example if adopted. The Tripartite’s drafters believe that the best approach to ensure the continued survival of the largest population of Caribbean green turtles is to achieve agreement among the three sovereign nations that possess the most important habitats used by the population. The latest version of the draft Tripartite calls for habitat protection through the establishment of a regional system of protected sea turtle habitats in the three countries, coupled with joint regional management planning. Provisions are also made to guarantee broad public participation in planning, decision-making and implementation activities covered in the agreement.

Selected Provisions of the Draft Tripartite Sea Turtle Agreement

The Sea Turtle Conservation Advisory Committee: This nine-member committee of governmental officials, non-governmental organizations, representatives of the private sector, local people, and scientists implements and enforces many of the Agreement’s provisions, ie., prepares a regional management plan to conserve populations of sea turtles shared by Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama, and reviews petitions for exemptions from the Agreement’s prohibitions. Decisions will be based on the best scientific information and knowledge of the needs of the communities. Articles VII and VIII.

Habitat Conservation Obligations: Parties will identifiy and list in an Annex protected nesting beaches and marine habitats and will develop protected area management plans that are consistent with regional objectives for a regional system of protected areas based on the life histories of the sea turtles covered by the agreement. Article IV.

Regional Management Plan: Through the Sea Turtle Conservation Advisory Committee, Parties will develop a regional management plan to provide guidelines and criteria for the regional protected area system, and research and monitoring at the regional level. The plan must be produced with public participation and will serve as the basis for individual protected area management plans within the regional system. Article V.

General Prohibitions: General Provisions will apply in terrestrial and marine habitats not designated as protected habitat. These include prohibitions against intentional capture of sea turtles, including collecting eggs; trade; and harm to sea turtle habitat. In order to maintain its focus on habitat protection, the agreement defers to the Inter-American Convention and CITES with respect to issues concerning turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and international trade. Article VI.

Provisions for Subsistence Use: The Agreement permits the sustainable use of sea turtles for subsistence purposes, but ensures that the petitioner for an exception provides the Committee with sufficient information to determine whether the use is likely to be sustainable, ie, a petitioner must provide, among other things, population surveys and a conservation impact assessment. The Agreement also recognizes that local people may not be able to afford these surveys and assessments. In these situations, the Parties are required to fund the surveys. Article IX.

Research and Monitoring: The Parties also must conduct or fund research essential to better understanding of the migrations of sea turtles and the factors which influence their survival. The Parties specifically must conduct or fund DNA testing to help identify the nesting beaches of adult sea turtles caught at sea. The Parties also must monitor sea turtle mortality and nesting activities. In addition, through the Committee the Parties are required to develop standardized monitoring protocols at the regional level. Articles XI and XII.

Enforcement: The Agreement requires the Parties to cooperate in enforcing the Agreement. For example, the Committee may inspect nesting beaches for compliance with the Agreement’s provisions. If it determines that violations are occurring at the nesting beach, it can assign observers to protect the beach. The Agreement makes clear that citizens have the right to enforce the provisions of this Agreement. Article XI.

International Cooperation and Coordination: The Agreement enables other countries to become Parties. In addition, the Agreement requires Parties to the Agreement to provide notice to the other Parties prior to undertaking activities that may affect the conservation status of sea turtles within the geographic scope of the Agreement. Article X.

Other Provisions: The Agreement also provides for annual reporting and establishes a fund to ensure its implementation. Articles XIII and XIV.

The initial draft was prepared by the Ad Hoc Drafting Committee which includes Mario Boza (Wildlife Conservation Society), Lizbeth Espinoza (CEDARENA), Chris Wold (Center for International Environmental Law), Dr. Thomas T. Ankersen (University of Florida College of Law), Dr. Anne Meylan (State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection), Dr. Peter Meylan (Eckerd University), and Lucinda K. Taft (Caribbean Conservation Corporation).

The draft Tripartite Agreement provides a coordinated and systematic approach to the conservation of sea turtles and a regional mechanism for implementating recommendations of the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles. The Agreement requires the establishment of a regional system of protected habitats based upon the biological requirements of sea turtles specific to Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua. Listed below are additional requirements of the Agreement. Copies of the Agreement in its entirety are available in both English and Spanish. Please contact STC at 1-352-373-6441 for your copy.