From the community

Three U.S. turtles receive international trade protection

Posted March 08, 2013, at 12:23 p.m.

Countries voted Friday during a conference in Bangkok, Thailand, to accept a U.S. proposal to regulate and monitor international trade of Blanding’s turtles, spotted turtles and diamondback terrapins, according to the Center for Biological Diversity based in Tucson, Ariz.

Blanding’s turtles and spotted turtles are found in Maine.

The decision, designed to curb overexploitation of the freshwater turtles for Asian food and medicinal markets, was made at an international meeting of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The protections come in response to a 2011 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, which documented the harmful turtle trade, leading to the U.S. proposal. 

“I’m so pleased that the nations of the world are acting to save freshwater turtles in the United States,” said the Center’s Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney and biologist who works to save endangered reptiles and amphibians, in a press release. “International protection is vital for the survival of our wild freshwater turtles, which are suffering from overexploitation, habitat loss and other threats.”

Most of the more than 2 million wild-caught, live turtles exported from the United States each year supply food and medicinal markets in Asia, where native turtle populations already have been depleted by soaring consumption. Adult turtles also are taken from the wild to breed hatchlings for the international pet trade.

Overexploitation has caused population declines in almost all turtle species, with many now either protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Act or under consideration for such protection. In 2012, the Center petitioned for protection of the spotted turtle and Blanding’s turtle under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, along with 51 other reptiles and amphibians, which are among the most endangered groups in the world. A recent study estimates that half of all turtle species worldwide are threatened with extinction.

“Turtle traders are depleting U.S. populations at a frightening rate. It’s got to stop soon or we’re going to lose these incredible animals from the wild,” said Adkins Giese, in a press release. “Commercial trade only compounds the problems native turtles already face from habitat destruction, water pollution and being hit and killed by cars.”

Friday’s vote comes during the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16), now meeting in Thailand. The three turtles were added to a list called “CITES Appendix II.” For species included on this list, international trade is regulated by a system in which permits are issued only when trade has been determined to be nondetrimental to species survival. CITES-listed species are also subject to mandatory reporting requirements.

The United States is a turtle biodiversity hotspot, home to more types of turtles than any other country in the world. As part of a campaign to protect this rich natural heritage, the Center in 2008 and 2009 petitioned states with unrestricted commercial turtle harvest to improve harvest regulations. In 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial harvest of freshwater turtles from public and private waters; in 2012 Georgia approved state rules regulating the commercial harvest of turtles and Alabama completely banned commercial harvests. The Center also has  petitioned to list several species of imperiled freshwater turtles under the Endangered Species Act.

The Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is a medium to large turtle targeted by the pet trade because of its beautiful yellow chin and throat. It once ranged through much of the Great Lakes region and the northeastern United States, but the only large remaining populations are found in Minnesota and Nebraska. Blanding’s turtles have suffered extensive slow declines from habitat loss, road mortality and intense predation on eggs and hatchlings.

The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) is a small, black turtle with yellow spots on its smooth shell — an attractive animal that’s another unfortunate favorite in the pet trade. It ranges from southern Ontario and Maine southward only from the Atlantic Coastal Plain and Piedmont to northern Florida and westward through Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania, central Ohio, northern Indiana, and Michigan to northeastern Illinois. The turtle has likely suffered a 50 percent overall reduction in population size, with much of this loss irreversible because of habitat loss.

The diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is the only species of turtle that resides exclusively in salt marshes. It is a medium-sized turtle with concentric markings on its shell and gray skin with dark blotches or stripes. It is found along the Atlantic Coast of the eastern United States from Cape Cod, Mass., to the Florida Keys and west along the Gulf Coast to Corpus Christi, Texas. Scientists have observed declines as steep as 75 percent over a 20-year period due to loss of nesting habitat, human collection for meat and pets, and incidental mortality in crab pots.

For more information about the Center’s campaign to stop the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis, please visithttp://BiologicalDiversity.org/herps.

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