|Blanding’s Turtle. JCM|
The US turtles added are Blanding’s turtles, spotted turtles and diamondback terrapins, which are all popularly traded in Asian food and medicine markets. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, over two million live turtles are exported from the US to Asian markets each year. While that figure includes species other than the three listed above, that huge catch has depressed a number of freshwater turtles. The new CITES coverage, which the CBD proposed way back in 2011, will at least force the trade to be regulated, monitored, and sustainable.
"I’m so pleased that the nations of the world are acting to save freshwater turtles in the United States,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a CBD attorney who focuses on reptiles and amphibians. “International protection is vital for the survival of our wild freshwater turtles, which are suffering from overexploitation, habitat loss and other threats.”
As you might have guessed, that huge Asian appetite for turtles has caused problems for turtle species in that region. In 2011, the Wildlife Conservation Society released a report listing the top 25 most endangered turtle species, nearly 70 percent of which were endemic to Asia. Along with the trio of North American turtles, a whopping 44 Asian turtle and tortoise species were given the protection of trade restrictions at the CITES conference.
Those restrictions can be flat-out bans, like for the international trade in ivory and rhino horn, which are generally reserved for endangered species and which are listed on CITES Appendix I. Appendix II, which a trio of hammerheads were added to this year, is for species that aren't necessarily endangered, but which are heavily threatened by market demand and whose trade must be regulated to be sustainable. Most of the turtles newly listed by CITES were added to Appendix II, while a few species have been bumped up to Appendix I, including Indonesia's Roti Island snake-necked turtle.
It's all good news, for as we've seen, conserving threatened species which have a high market demand is difficult enough when restrictions are in place. Without those restrictions, it's basically a free for all. Hopefully the new regulations will help preserve turtles for some time to come.