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South Asian Nations Agree to Conserve Sea Turtles

BANGKOK, Thailand, April 1, 2005 (ENS) - Marine turtle experts and officials from 25 countries around the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia concluded a three day conference Thursday with an agreement on plans for a public awareness campaign in 2006.

A region-wide "Year of the Turtle" initiative will draw attention to the steep declines in turtle populations in many parts of their range, as well as the complex social and economic issues that need to be tackled if the situation is to be reversed.

The campaign is to be organized under the umbrella of the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia (IOSEA) Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding, which is coordinated from an office of the United Nations Environment Programme in Bangkok.

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Green turtles kiss in Southeast Asian waters. (Photo courtesy Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center)
The IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU is one of a suite of intergovermental agreements aimed at conserving migratory species, concluded under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species, headquartered in Bonn, Germany.

The government of Indonesia signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the final day of the conference, confirming its intention to support regionwide efforts to conserve and manage turtle populations.

On signing the agreement, Indonesia's Ambassador to Thailand, Ibrahim Yusuf, said, "The Government of Indonesia is aware of the importance of regional cooperation to manage the species in a sustainable manner [and it] calls on other Signatory States and other partners such as NGOs to support our efforts."

The agreement puts in place a broad set of measures aimed at conserving habitat that marine turtles require for their survival, as well as addressing specific threats such egg collection and interactions with coastal and offshore fisheries, known to be important sources of turtle mortality.

"The problems facing marine turtles in this region have been recognized for many years, but this is the first time they have been seriously discussed among so many governments with a common commitment to take action," said Douglas Hykle, who heads the secretariat overseeing the activities of the IOSEA MoU.

Participants saw the conference outcome as a symbolic turning point. The meeting had before it the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of measures in place to conserve marine turtles and their habitats of the vast area covered by the agreement.

The report found that while much progress had been made to carry out vital research and raise awareness, many serious problems remain to be tackled.

The accidental killing of turtles in fishing gear poses one of the most serious threats. Regional fisheries management organizations have a major role to play in encouraging the introduction of alternative gear and other devices to reduce these impacts. The meeting emphasized the need for the IOSEA agreement to strengthen ties to these organizations and to monitor the application of new guidelines aimed at reducing fisheries-related mortality.

"Simply trying to impose a ban on harmful activities is unlikely to be successful, especially if there are inadequate resources for enforcement," said Hykle. "Solutions to issues as complex as these require an understanding of the societal and economic factors at play, and careful discussion and negotiation with all of the stakeholders concerned."

Even seemingly positive endeavors, such as the creation of hatcheries to incubate eggs taken from the wild, came under scrutiny at the meeting. While useful in some instances to protect eggs that would otherwise be lost to poachers or storms, poorly operated hatcheries can be a drain on the production of viable turtle hatchlings in the wild.

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Winner of the Sanctuary-ABN AMRO Wildlife Service Award in 2001, chartered accountant Biswajit Mohanty of India is coordinator for Operation Kachhapa, an ambitious sea turtle conservation program. Here he observes turtles on an Orissa beach. (Photo courtesy Sanctuary Asia)
There was widespread support among delegates for a proposal to develop a network of sites of importance for marine turtles, linked to the IOSEA MoU. The aim is to promote greater awareness and recognition of these sites by communities and decisionmakers, in order to ensure their long-term viability.

Australia has reinforced its commitment to the growing turtle conservation initiative by agreeing to provide another staff member to the IOSEA MoU Secretariat through its development assistance program AusAID, and by announcing additional funding for Year of the Turtle activities.

The meeting also acknowledged the important contributions to the implementation of the IOSEA conservation plan made by nongovernmental organizations. About 15 NGOs from countries throughout the region were represented in Bangkok, including several offices of WWF, the global conservation organization.

WWF used the gathering to release a new publication: "Turtle Islands - Resources and Livelihoods under Threat," a case study from the Philippines.

ProFauna Indonesia circulated a new report containing the results of its extensive investigation of the Hawksbill trade in Indonesia.

For more on Law and Legislations of Sea Turtles In Southeast Asia Region visit: http://td.seafdec.org/map/turtle/law_legis.html



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