In an effort to defeat two proposals to re-open legal international trade in hawksbill turtle shell between Cuba and Japan, STC is sent three representatives to the 2000 “Conference of the Parties” for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to be held in Africa. STC Executive Director David Godfrey and Scientific Advisory Committee members Drs. Anne Meylan and Jeanne Mortimer traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, and convince CITES country delegates that the proposals submitted by Cuba would have serious negative impacts on both Caribbean and global hawksbill populations. The major concern was that re-opening trade in hawksbill shell would encourage stockpiling of shell by dealers around the world in anticipation that CITES will eventually legalize trade elsewhere.
Recognizing that unregulated trade was wiping out scores of plant and animal species, in 1973 countries from around the world drafted a treaty “to protect wildlife against such over-exploitation and to prevent international trade from threatening species with extinction.” Known as CITES, the treaty now includes 146 member countries. These countries act by banning commercial international trade in an agreed list of endangered species and by regulating and monitoring trade in others that might become endangered. Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are currently listed on Appendix I, which is reserved for those species in imminent danger of extinction. Specimens or products derived from species listed on Appendix I are banned from trade between member countries without special permission.
Hawksbill shell (or bekko in Japanese) has been used since antiquity as raw material in the making of a variety of products, including jewelry, carved figurines and decorative ornaments. Artisans from Japan are particularly skilled in working with bekko, and there is constant demand in that country for raw hawksbill shell.
Since 1993, Cuba has been stockpiling hawksbill shell from turtles taken in its waters. Approximately six tons of raw shell are now stored in Cuba awaiting permission from CITES to be exported. Under the proposed amendments submitted to CITES for consideration in April, Cuba is asserting that the hawksbills occurring in its territorial waters form a stable enough population to warrant “downlisting” to Appendix II. If either of the proposed amendments (Prop. 11.40 and Prop 11.41) is approved by a two-thirds vote of CITES delegates, Cuba would be allowed the one-time shipment of its entire stockpile to Japan. If Prop. 11.40 is approved, then every year thereafter, Cuba would also be permitted to export shell from an additional 500 hawksbills to Japan and other countries meeting certain guidelines.
Dozens of sea turtle scientists who make up the international Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) have voiced strong objections to the Cuban proposal. Drs. Meylan and Mortimer are among those on the MTSG who are most knowledgeable about the status of hawksbills in the Caribbean and indeed globally. The STC delegation was on hand in Africa to present delegates with factual information about the impacts of the Cuban proposal. As a result of the hard work of STC and others, the proposals were defeated.
Transfer from Appendix I to Appendix II that part of the Caribbean population of Eretmochelys imbricata inhabiting Cuban waters, pursuant to Resolution Conf. 9.24, for the exclusive purposes of allowing: 1. the export in one shipment of all existing registered management stocks of shell accumulated from Cuba’s management programme between 1993 and March 2000 (up to 6,900 kg) to Japan for total consumption within Japan with no re-export; and 2. the export each year thereafter, to Japan or to other Parties with equivalent controls, which will not re-export, not more than 500 specimens.
Transfer from Appendix I to Appendix II that part of the Caribbean population of Eretmochelys imbricata inhabiting Cuban waters, pursuant to Resolution Conf. 9.24, for the exclusive purposes of allowing the export in one shipment of registered management stocks of shell accumulated legally in Cuba from a national management programme between 1993 and March 2000 (up to 6,900 kg) to Japan for total consumption within Japan with no re-exports. No further annual export from the traditional harvest is sought and all other specimens of E. imbricata, including wild stocks in Cuban waters, will be treated as specimens of species in Appendix I and international trade in them shall be regulated accordingly.