Turtle Souvenir Trade Evaporates in Dominican Republic

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Photo of turtle souvenir by Adrian Reuter/TRAFFIC North America

Critically endangered hawksbill turtles are no longer being sold as tourist souvenirs in the Dominican Republic after a powerful government campaign cracked down on shops illegally trading such items, TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, said today.

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More than 99 percent of these souvenirs have been withdrawn or confiscated, TRAFFIC reported in a news release.

A 2006 survey carried out by TRAFFIC found more than 23,000 items made from hawksbill turtles for sale. A February revisit of the same locations revealed a dramatic reduction with only 135 shell items, the release said.

“The success has been achieved thanks to a widespread government-led action launched in November 2008. The Dominican Republic has encouraged the trade of alternative products such as cow horn or bone to present an alternative to shops trading with these turtles,” TRAFFIC said.

“We warmly congratulate the Government of the Dominican Republic on their decisive action that has virtually eliminated the blatant illegal souvenir trade in hawksbill turtle shells,” said Adrian Reuter, TRAFFIC‘s Representative in Mexico.

WWF video

“This sets an important conservation example for the region, showing that there are solutions that benefit wildlife and people, especially local communities that rely on tourism.

Hawksbills are one of three marine turtle species that nest on beaches in the Dominican Republic. “Over the last century, millions have been killed for the tortoiseshell markets of Europe, the United States and Asia. Today they are preyed upon by poachers mainly for their shells, which are made into souvenirs and sold to tourists, millions of whom visit the country, mostly from North America and Europe,” the news release said.

Hawksbills are classified by IUCN as Critically Endangered and facing an extremely high risk of global extinction. They are listed in Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) along with other marine turtles, which prohibits their international trade.


Photo of turtle souvenir by Adrian Reuter/TRAFFIC North America

“With marine turtles around the world being threatened with extinction, we need to maximize every effort to save these species, not least because they are worth infinitely more alive as tourist attractions than dead,” said Carlos Drews, WWF‘s regional coordinator for marine turtle conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The good news from the Dominican Republic is that it demonstrates to fellow nations that a real difference can be made to reduce illegal trade.”


Photo of turtle souvenir by Adrian Reuter/TRAFFIC North America

There are an estimated 8,000 nesting female hawksbill turtles that inhabit the coastal waters of a 180 countries around the world, according to TRAFFIC. The survival of the species is threatened by illegal tortoiseshell trade, egg collection, slaughter for meat and recently, climate change.

TRAFFIC is a joint program of IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and WWF, the global conservation organization.

Additional information:

Turning the Tide: Exploitation, Trade and Management of Marine Turtles in the Lesser Antilles, Central America, Colombia and Venezuela (TRAFFIC report PDF file)

Tourists, Turtles and Trinkets: a look at the trade in marine turtle products in the Dominican Republic and Colombia (TRAFFIC report PDF file)

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