Endangered species / Madagascar

Over 1 million sea turtles poached, study finds

Written by Oceanographic Staff

Researchers from the Arizona State University have established that around 1.1 million sea turtles have been illegally killed in the last 30 years.

A new study by scientists from Arizona State University, published in the journal Global Change Biology, states that over 1.1 million sea turtles have been illegally killed from 1990 to 2020, highlighting the need for added protection.

The researchers established that around 44,000 sea turtles across 65 countries were poached annually in that time window despite present laws in affect that are meant to protect the species from exploitation.

“The numbers are really high and almost certainly underrepresented by several orders of magnitude because it’s just very hard to assess any type of illegal activity,” said Jesse Senko, an assistant research professor at Arizona State University (ASU) and one of the lead authors of the study to The Guardian.

By examining over 209 peer-reviewed journal articles, and various reports and media publications, as well as looking at turtles and turtle byproducts that were illegally killed or trafficked across borders, the researchers tried to establish the magnitude of illegal turtle hunting.

The study found that almost 43,000 sea turtles were trafficked between 1990 and 2010, but Senko points out that this figure is most likely higher. South-east Asia and Madagascar were found to be hotspots for sea turtle hunting, while sea turtle trafficking usually starts in Vietnam. China and Japan were identified as the largest markets for illegal turtle products.

“In several cultures, having a stuffed turtle in your house can be a status symbol,” Senko commented. According to the United Nations, sea turtles are primarily poached for their shells and meat, while their parts are commonly used for traditional medicines, decor, jewellery, and other artefacts, resulting in a global illegal wildlife market worth around £20bn annually.

According to the study, around 95% of poached turtles were green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles, endangered and critically endangered species. Green sea turtles are highly prized for their meat, while hawksbills have a beautiful shell that is in high demand. On a more positive note, the effect of the illegal trafficking of these species is somewhat contained as most of the individuals came from large and stable populations.

Furthermore, the study found that the reported illegal exploitation of sea turtles has decreased by around 28% during the last ten years, while the team of researchers initially expected an increase in reported poaching. It suspects that the reasons behind the decline could be related to increased protective legislation, an increase in awareness of the problem, and better conservation measures.

Photography courtesy of Ocean Image Bank: Jason Washington, Amanda Cotton, and Gabriel Barathieu.

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