Organized poaching is decimating Madagascar's sea turtles

Wildlife Conservation Society ScienceDaily 1 Sep 16;

The illegal hunting of Madagascar's sea turtles is reaching a crisis level as a result of organized trafficking networks says a team of conservationists. The team asserts that the recent spike in the exploitation of marine turtles is being driven by increasing demand for marine turtle meat and oil both on local markets and in Southeast Asia and the participation of local villagers in the illegal hunting for monetary gain.

The illegal hunting of Madagascar's sea turtles is reaching a crisis level as a result of organized trafficking networks says a team of WCS conservationists.

The WCS team asserts that the recent spike in the exploitation of marine turtles is being driven by increasing demand for marine turtle meat and oil both on local markets and in Southeast Asia and the participation of local villagers in the illegal hunting for monetary gain. With an ongoing crises from illegal exploitation of precious timber, land tortoises, and now sea turtles, Madagascar is developing an unfortunate reputation as an illegal trafficking hotspot, WCS warns.

"The beaches of Madagascar are important nesting sites for four species of marine turtle -- Green sea turtles, Hawksbill sea turtles, Loggerhead sea turtles and Olive Ridley sea turtles, so the increase in poaching is of great concern," said Alison Clausen, WCS's Regional Director for Madagascar and the Western Indian Ocean. "These species are all protected by national and international laws, but the growth of organized trafficking is outstripping the country's enforcement capabilities."

Marine turtle hunting has always existed at low levels throughout Madagascar, but over the last several years hunting levels -- particularly for illegal international trade -- appear to have increased dramatically. All marine turtles are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and any international commercial trade in their parts or products is illegal. To address the issue conservationists and government agencies have increased enforcement along with an effort to raise awareness in local communities of the importance of protecting sea turtles.

WCS has been particularly active raising awareness of the importance of marine turtles for marine ecosystems and as a tourist attraction. In May 2016, the second annual marine turtle festival was organized by WCS in northwest Madagascar and attracted around 350 local villagers and Government officials. An exhibition of marine turtle photos and information from Madagascar was also developed and exhibited in Madagascar and Reunion attracting over 35,000 visitors.

In spite of recent successes in the protection of Madagascar's sea turtles, indications of a recurrence of rampant exploitation have emerged in the past year. Just this month, a mission in the Radama Islands archipelago in northwest Madagascar resulted in the seizure of 13 immense nets and 3 live captured sea turtles were found on site. Authorities also discovered the carapaces of hundreds of recently killed Green sea turtles at the site which are the most commonly hunted species because of their large size. Similar discoveries in April of the remains of poached turtles were found in Ankivonjy Marine Protected Area which is managed by WCS in collaboration with local communities.

"The Government of Madagascar has made many strides in the past several years to protect its natural resources and has pledged to triple the coverage of marine protected areas in the country," added Clausen. We are committed to working with the Government and communities to protect Madagascar's natural resources but it's a huge challenge when a single sea turtle can be sold at the same price as a fisherman's monthly income."

The northwest of Madagascar in particular is a global marine biodiversity hotspot, exhibiting some of the highest diversity of coral reef ecosystems in the world. WCS has been working in the northwest of Madagascar for over 10 years to create marine protected areas to protect marine turtles and other important marine ecosystems and species including coral reefs, seagrasses, dugongs and sharks and rays. In April 2015 the MPAs of Ankivonjy and Ankarea were formally established by the Government of Madagascar and are managed by WCS in partnership with local communities.

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