Policy Initiatives: International Issues: CITES: Letter Opposing UK/Cayman Islands Turtle Farm Proposal

October 8, 2002: While STC and other groups celebrate the resolution of the hawksbill issue, a new trade proposal from the United Kingdom and the Cayman Islands poses an equally disturbing threat to sea turtles. In this case, the UK delegation is attempting to register the Cayman Turtle Farm as a legal captive-breeding facility for green turtles (Chelonia mydas). Under CITES regulations, animal parts produced in a registered captive-breeding farm are allowed to be traded internationally. Thus, if the measure is approved at the upcoming COP, the Cayman Turtle Farm would become the world’s only legal source for internationally traded green turtle products.

Since its founding in 1959, STC has been dedicated to studying and protecting sea turtles, especially the Caribbean green turtle. Indeed, the very formation of STC was inspired out of concern over the rapid decline of green turtles occurring as a result of over-harvesting for international consumption. At the time, green turtles were under great pressure due to worldwide demand, especially in Europe, for green turtle meat and fat, which is used in the making of green turtle soup.

STC is actively opposing the UK/Cayman Islands proposal. Already, we have helped Costa Rica craft its formal opposition, and we will be sending one or more representatives to the CITES conference in Chile. The withdrawal of Cuba’s proposal regarding hawksbills was a great victory for sea turtle conservation, but the reopening of green turtle trade looms large as a major threat to this species. STC will do everything possible to convince CITES delegates that the Cayman Farm proposal would pose an unacceptable risk to green turtles.

Please see below of a sample letter written to the UK’s Minister for the Environment urging the UK to reconsider its application to CITES.

Hon Michael Meacher MP
Minister for the Environment,
DEFRA, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square,
London, SW1P 3JR,
United Kingdom

Dear Mr. Meacher,

The conservation of endangered species of sea turtles is one of the main concerns in most countries in America. So much so, that the first and only international treaty whose sole purpose is the protection and conservation of sea turtles, the Interamerican Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC), recently entered into force and had its first COP in San Jose, Costa Rica this past August.

Also, the Specially Protected Areas of Wildlife Protocol (SPAW) of the Cartagena Convention for the Wider Caribbean region recently entered into force. The SPAW protocol protects all species of sea turtles in the region from all kinds of threats including international trade. The UK is a signatory Party to this protocol and at the first COP in Havana, Cuba in September of 2001, the UK delegation said ratification was forthcoming.

These nascent treaties are trying to protect and conserve all of the species of sea turtles in the region through a series of measures aimed at achieving sound regional conservation and management plans that will guarantee the survival of these species.

Unfortunately, the Parties of these treaties have not had a chance to discuss any of the proposals concerning sea turtles presented to CITES. Cuba s decision to withdraw their proposal to downlist the critically endangered hawksbill turtle in their waters to Appendix II in CITES has been welcomed as the right step towards achieving regional turtle conservation in the Wider Caribbean region.

Given that Cuba has withdrawn this proposal in recognition of the concern expressed by ranges states throughout the region, we feel that it would be highly appropriate that the UK withdraws its own application to CITES to register the Cayman Turtle Farm as a captive breeding operation.

We feel that the registration would undermine the efforts of the IAC and SPAW Protocol to achieve regionally accepted conservation measures and management plans for sea turtles. We also note that the risk of reopening international trade, given the high vulnerability of green turtle populations, is too great to justify the application.

We would also note that under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), endangered species are listed in Appendix I, which includes all six species of marine turtle found in the Western Hemisphere. The UK is Party to the CMS which stipulates that Range States of a migratory species listed in Appendix I shall endeavour a) to conserve and, where feasible and appropriate, restore those habitats of the species which are of importance in removing the species from danger of extinction; b) to prevent, remove, compensate for or minimize, as appropriate, the adverse effects of activities or obstacles that seriously impede or prevent the migration of the species; and c) to the extend feasible and appropriate, to prevent, reduce or control factors that are endangering or are likely to further endanger the species, including strictly controlling the introduction of, or controlling or eliminating, already introduced exotic species.” [CMS Article III(4)].

The Cayman farm operation presents several risks that would in themselves go against the conservation measures of the CMS, such as: the introduction of diseases to the wild population and possible impacts on the gene pool through reintroduction of hatchlings whose lineage comes from different populations; the resumption of trade in green turtle shells to tourists has the potential to create a market for green turtle carapaces and stimulate illegal trade which would undermine conservation efforts throughout the region.

We urge you to reconsider the UK application to CITES to register the Cayman Turtle Farm as a captive breeding operation and withdraw it.


CC.: Martin Brasher, CITES Management Authority, Division Manager, Global Wildlife Division, DEFRA, Temple Quay House, 2, The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol BS1 6EB,UK