All seven sea turtle species are being poached for their eggs, shells and meat. The leatherback, the largest of all the species; green; loggerhead; hawksbill; olive ridley; kemp's ridley; and flatback sea turtles are all listed under the Endangered Species Act. Sea turtles, the mythological symbol of longevity, predate the dinosaurs, yet today these marine turtles are at risk.
Poachers often appropriate sea turtles for the tiny bones making up the turtles' carapace shell. Poachers will sell them to artisans, who in turn use the bones to make jewelry, fish hooks and hair accessories. In many parts of the world, people use the bones and eggs in ceremonies. Sea turtle bones, which play a part in traditional Chinese medicine, are often ground into powder and sold in Chinese medicine shops. The Chinese, who believe sea turtle bones offer longevity in life, consume the powder.
Eggs are thought of as aphrodisiacs in many parts of the world, including Malaysia and Kenya. Eating sea turtle eggs is thought to bring long life and health. Poor law enforcement and economic conditions in Malaysia enable sea turtle poaching to continue, causing a grave threat to leatherback sea turtles, according to the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. The nesting sea turtle female population in Malaysia dropped from 2,000 to 20 in only one generation, according to the Sean Turtle Restoration Project. Sea Turtles Forever states that 99 percent of the nests laid in Central and South America are poached.
The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle is considered the turtle with the most desired shell. According to Ecomii, the population of the hawksbill turtle has declined 80 percent within the last 100 years. Despite international bans and conservation laws, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, enforcement cannot keep up with the high demand of turtle shell. Popular in the tourist trade, poachers harvest hawksbill turtle shells to create tortoiseshell jewelry and handbag accessories. Shells are also poached for eyeglass frames, belt buckles, perfume, leather goods and oil.
Sea turtle meat is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. Poached turtles from Malaysia and Vietnam are shipped to China for medicinal ceremony purposes, according to Facts and Details. Turtle heads are eaten to ease labor pains, and turtle blood is sold at Walmart stores in China. Turtles accidentally trapped within fishing nets are often sold for their meat to help pay for thread for net repairs, instead of releasing turtles into the wild, thus adding to their decline, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society. Hawksbill turtles are preferred over green sea turtles in the Bahamas and are killed for their meat, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
- World Turtle Trust: Sea Turtles: Why Are Sea Turtles So Special?
- See Turtles: Poaching and Illegal Trade
- ScienceDaily: Endangered Sea Turtles Make a Dramatic Turnaround
- Wildlife Conservation Society: Leatherback Sea Turtle
- Sea Turtle Restoration Project: Egg Poaching in Central America
- Ecomii: Jeff Corwin Connect: Animal Poaching and the Black Market
- Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images