UN Marine Turtle Conference Ends on a High Note
Delegates select 2006 as "Year of the Turtle" in Indian Ocean and
Bangkok, March 19, 2004
A four-day conference on marine turtle conservation, bringing together
officials and experts from 25 countries around the Indian Ocean and
South-East Asia ended positively on Friday, with agreement to organise a
major awareness campaign in 2006.
A region-wide "Year of the Turtle" initiative will draw attention to the
dramatic declines in turtle populations in many parts of their range, as
well as the complex social and economic issues that need to be tackled if
the situation is to be reversed.
The campaign is to be organised under the umbrella of the Indian Ocean and
South-East Asian (IOSEA) Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding, which
is coordinated from an office of the United Nations Environment Programme
in Bangkok. The agreement puts in place a broad set of measures aimed at
conserving habitat that marine turtles require for their survival, as well
as addressing specific threats, such as egg collection and interactions
with coastal and offshore fisheries, known to be important sources of
Douglas Hykle, who runs the secretariat overseeing the activities of the
IOSEA MoU, said the conference represents a symbolic turning point. "The
problems facing marine turtles in this region have been recognized for many
years, but this is the first time they have been seriously discussed among
so many governments with a common commitment to take action."
The meeting heard accounts of the extremely complex social issues that are
contributing to the decline of marine turtles in two conservation
"hotspots". In Bali, Indonesia, traditional use of turtles in ceremonies
and consumption of meat have taken their toll on vast numbers of green
turtles, while in Orissa, India, thousands of turtles are drowned every
year in fisheries operating illegally in protected waters. "Simply trying
to impose a ban on harmful activities is unlikely to be successful in these
cases", said Hykle. "Solutions to issues as complex as these require an
understanding of the societal factors at play, and careful discussion and
negotiation with all of the stakeholders concerned."
Even seemingly positive endeavors, such as the creation of hatcheries to
incubate eggs taken from the wild, came under close scrutiny at the
meeting. While useful in some instances to protect eggs that would
otherwise be lost to poachers or natural phenomena, poorly-operated
hatcheries were cited as a significant drain on the production of healthy
recruits to wild populations of marine turtles.
There was widespread support among delegates for a proposal introduced at
the meeting to develop a network of sites of importance for marine turtles,
linked to the IOSEA MoU. The aim would be to promote greater awareness and
recognition of these sites by government decision-makers, with a view to
ensuring their long-term integrity.
During the course of the week, Ambassadors from Oman and Jordan added their
countries' signature to the memorandum, and Thailand announced that its
Cabinet given its approval to sign the MoU in the coming days. Another
four countries ? India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and South Africa ? signaled
their intention to sign the MoU within the next months. Australia has
reinforced its commitment to the growing turtle conservation initiative by
agreeing to provide a staff member to the IOSEA MoU Secretariat through its
development assistance programme (AusAID).
The meeting recognized the important contributions to the implementation of
the IOSEA conservation plan made by non-governmental organisations and
civil society at all levels. A dozen NGOs from countries throughout the
region were represented at the Bangkok gathering, including five offices of
the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Confident that the ground-breaking agreement is on the right track,
delegates agreed to extend an invitation to China, Japan and the Republic
of Korea ? all sharing highly migratory turtle populations ? to join their
ranks. A feasibility study looking into the possible extension of the
agreement even further, into the Pacific Ocean, will be undertaken in the
coming year, with support requested from the IOSEA MoU's parent Convention
on Migratory Species (CMS).
For more information please contact:
Douglas Hykle, Coordinator/Senior CMS Advisor, IOSEA MoU Secretariat,
Bangkok; (+ 66 2) 288 1471; email: [log in to unmask]
Or visit the IOSEA Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding website at
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