Over 42,000 turtles are legally killed each year, 80% of them endangered green turtles (Chelonia mydas), a study suggests.
British scientists investigated which countries allowed turtles to be killed, and how many of each species died, the Diversity and Distributions Journal reported.
Ten countries account for more than 90% of the catch, with Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua and Australia taking almost three-quarters between them. Legal take of turtles is comparable to estimates of by-catch.
Widespread commercial catch of turtles has contributed significantly to their decline.
The first place to protect turtles was Bermuda, as early as 1620. Although 42,000 seems an enormous number now, in the 60s Mexico alone was catching over 380,000 a year. The IUCN Red List of threatened species has listed marine turtles since 1982, giving them protection from the 198 countries now signed up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The IUCN writes that “Perhaps the most detrimental human threats to green turtles are the intentional harvests of eggs and adults from nesting beaches and juveniles and adults from foraging grounds.“. Other threats include bycatch in marine fisheries, habitat degradation at nesting beaches and feeding areas, and disease.
As well as 37,339 green turtles, an estimated 3456 hawksbill turtles, 1051 loggerhead turtles, 263 olive ridley and 62 leatherback turtles are captured.
Humber, F., Godley, B. J., Broderick, A. C. (2014), So excellent a fishe: a global overview of legal marine turtle fisheries. Diversity and Distributions. doi: 10.1111/ddi.12183
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