What is CITES and how does it affect sea turtles and other animals?
Sea turtles were first included in CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in 1975. At that time, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles were killed every year for international trade.
There are three appendices in CITES for which various threatened species are listed and their international trade regulated accordingly:
-Appendix I: these species are endangered. No trade is allowed, or trade is allowed only with permits under exceptional circumstances (i.e. scientific research).
-Appendix II: these species may not yet be threatened but will become so if their trade is not regulated. Trade is allowed with permits
-Appendix III: these species are already regulated by a particular country but it needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent illegal exploitation. Trade is allowed only on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates.
Widespread concern about sea turtles and the trade in skin (of olive ridleys and green turtles), shell (of hawksbills and green turtles), and meat and calipee (of green turtles) led to early CITES prohibitions on trade that placed most species on either Appendix I or Appendix II. By 1981, all sea turtles were included in Appendix I. Yet, despite this international protection, trade intensified for several years as countries stockpiled turtle products or traded under reservations (exceptions) to the CITES ban (for example, France, Italy, and Japan).
Although CITES has significantly reduced the international green turtle trade, illegal commerce continues today in places such as the U.S.–Mexico border region, where meat is smuggled from Baja into southern California for Holy Week celebrations. And green turtles continue to be hunted legally in large numbers in many countries because CITES does not restrict domestic use. As more countries pass national legislation to implement CITES restrictions, use is expected to decline.
CITES COP17 (Seventeenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties) is being held now (Sep 24- Oct 5, 2016) in South Africa.
Though sea turtles are already protected by CITES and listed in appendix I, other animals’ fate can be determined by the outcome of the meeting: African Gray Parrots (proposed to move to Appendix I from Appendix II), eight species of pangolins (proposed to move to Appendix I from II), alligator lizards (list in Appendix II), and many more.
African gray parrots have been heavily trapped for over a century, making it the most traded wild-caught parrot listed under CITES. It is currently listed on CITES Appendix II, and is also classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, meaning there is a ‘high risk of extinction in the wild.’
Learn more about this meeting here, see the details of listing proposals of various animals by TRAFFIC and IUCN here and here, learn more about African Gray Parrots here, and sign a petition to list African Grays on Appendix I here.
See here for more information about CITES and sea turtles.