Sea Turtle Week puts focus on illegal trafficking of species

NEW YORK – On June 16 each year, we celebrate World Sea Turtle Day to raise the profile of sea turtles and inspire action to protect them from global threats. This year, Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA) partner SEE Turtles has organized an entire week to celebrate these beautiful creatures. Sea Turtle Week will be celebrated between World Oceans Day (June 8) and World Sea Turtle Day (June 16), and will highlight a different species/threat each day. On June 13, the focus will be on the illegal trade that threatens hawksbill sea turtles.

Hawksbill Sea Turtles in Illegal Trade

Hawksbill sea turtles are critical to the health of coral reefs by consuming sea sponges that compete with coral for space. They are also a favorite of snorkelers and divers and help draw visitors to spots around the world, helping local economies. But the beautiful shell of the hawksbill, used to hide in the colorful reefs, is also a big reason they are endangered. In many places, artisans take the hawksbill shell (also known as “tortoiseshell”) to make jewelry and other products for sale to tourists.

Hawksbills are listed as Critically Endangered and in decline by the IUCN Red List. In the U.S. they are listed as Endangered. Estimates suggest that only 15,000–20,000 nesting females remain worldwide, a fraction of their former population. Today the black market continues and according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Japanese bekko industry remains intact. Recent surveys in Latin America have shown the broad availability of these products; more than 10,000 turtleshell products were found in more than 200 stores in Latin America in the recent report Endangered Souvenirs. The U.S. is the world’s second largest market for illegal wildlife products and tourists who purchase them abroad and bring them home often don’t realize they are contributing to the decline of a critically endangered species.

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) included the Sea Turtle in his “Endangered Species” series. The prints were sold through museums events designed to call attention to the issue of threatened wildlife. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Dane Fine Art

Summary of the Wildlife Trafficking Crisis

Wildlife trafficking is an international crisis, with an unprecedented increase in illegal wildlife trade throughout the world in the past thirty years. Populations of endangered species have plummeted, yet the illegal trade shows no indication of slowing down. An unprecedented global demand for exotic wildlife products has triggered an industrial-scale killing spree of endangered species animals on land and sea. Wildlife trafficking, which depends on the killing of hundreds of thousands of animals, is a multi-billion-dollar criminal industry. Money from the illegal wildlife trade has been linked to terrorist organizations, drug lords, gangs, and corrupt governments—all at the expense of wild animals, the environment, and our national security.

Wildlife Trafficking is a Global Problem

Although the loss of African wildlife garners the most attention, wildlife traffickers are decimating important wildlife populations in many nations. Important species are being poached in Latin America, the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and the U.S. and once the products are smuggled out of the home country, they enter an industrial-scale illegal trade that spans the globe. Wildlife experts have confirmed that if we don’t act quickly, trafficking will wipe out many endangered species in our lifetime. A recent United Nations report reveals that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction due to human activities, including poaching; and that we are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

LiveAuctioneers is working in partnership with the WTA to help combat wildlife trafficking and protect marine species from illegal trade. The WTA is a coalition of more than 70 leading nonprofit organizations (including Humane Society International and World Wildlife Fund), companies, and AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums that are working together to combat wildlife trafficking by: (1) raising public awareness; (2) reducing consumer demand for wildlife and wildlife products; and (3) mobilizing companies to adopt best practices and help close off wildlife traffickers’ supply chains.

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