Category Archives: Turtles

First Marine Protected Area in Cambodia Announced

schooling-fish-801x600M’Pai Bai jetty with school of fish. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries recently declared a 156-square mile region of the Koh Rong Archipelago the nation’s first marine protected area. The Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA), located by the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, houses diverse species of sea turtles and seahorses and protects their fragile nursery and breeding sites.

In addition to preserving wildlife, the plan still allows for human activities in the area: “The MFMA will help to drive sustainable fishing activities of the community, protect biodiversity and promote ecotourism, all of which contribute to achieving the goal of the fisheries sector,” said Ouk Vibol, director of Cambodia’s Department of Fisheries Conservation, who pushed for creation of the protected area. “This is a good management model, as many stakeholders — including development partners, the private sector, local authorities and the local community — are working together to manage the fisheries resource for sustainable use.”

Blue-spotted-rays-902x600Blue-spotted ray. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.

For the past five years, local groups such as the Song Saa Foundation and Save Cambodian Marine Life have worked alongside non-profit Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration to help the MFMA come to fruition. FFI’s Coastal and Marine Project Manager Kate West said that between 60 and 80% of local communities around the archipelago rely on fishing and tourism, making it critical that the new MFMA ensured “that the waters around Koh Rong can continue to support not only marine life but also local livelihoods long into the future.”

The Song Saa Foundation has further pushed the initiative forward by providing baseline research on the health of local coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses. “The establishment of this MFMA is a major step towards protecting biodiversity of key marine fauna and habitats in the archipelago, as well as the communities that rely upon them for their well being,” noted Ben Thorne, a Song Saa Foundation project director. “We are hugely proud of our collaborative efforts over the past five years to establish this protected area, ensuring successful conservation of fisheries resources, whilst supporting local communities, for many years to come.”

Source: Gaworecki, Mike. “Cambodia declares first-ever marine protected area.” Mongabay. 24 June 2016.

Flabellina-nudibranchFlabellina nudibranch, a colorful sea slug. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.

 

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5 Years in Prison for Canadian Turtle Smuggler

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On April 12, Kai Xu, a Canadian man caught in 2014 attempting to smuggle 51 live turtles in his pants, was sentenced to fifty-seven months in prison by a US federal judge. According to prosecutors, Canadian border guards had found “41 turtles taped to his legs and 10 hidden between his legs”, and he had already sent over 1000 turtles to Shanghai in suitcases via a co-conspirator.
Since his arrest in September 2014, the 27-year-old has spent his days in prison. He has admitted he’s tried to smuggle over 1600 turtles, ranging in species from Eastern box turtles and red-eared sliders to Diamondback Terrapins, from the US to China between April 2014 and his arrest. The Associated Press reported that Xu entered Michigan multiple times to buy and ship turtles to China without a federal permit. Assistant US Attorney Sara Woodward noted his wildlife smuggling crimes to be among the largest in recent years.
Xu, who claimed in a letter to US District Judge John Corbett O’Meara to be selling the turtles in part to fund his college degree, thanked agents “for stopping the darkness of my greed and ignorance”, and expressed remorse for his actions. The sentencing marks a victory against the dangerous and widespread global trend of wildlife trafficking.
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Source: Dasgupta, Shreya. “Turtle smuggler sentenced to five years in prison.” Mongabay, 18 April, 2016.

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3-D Printed Sea Turtle Eggs:Will Poachers Know the Difference?

Conservationists have been putting technology to good use, creating artificial eggs with wireless transmitters that can trick and track black market traders.

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Each year, hundreds of eggs from endangered sea turtles are dug up from the beaches of Nicaragua and other countries and carted off to restaurants across the globe. Each egg can be sold anywhere from 20 cents at local bars to $150 apiece in the US or China, where the eggs are seen as rare delicacies. However, the process by which these eggs wind up on the black market is still murky, giving rise to nonprofit group Paso Pacifico’s new plan to shed light on the eggs’ journey.

Using 3-D printing technology, the organization is developing fake sea turtle eggs, each the size of a ping-pong ball, containing GSM transmitters which will track egg-smuggling routes across the globe. This innovative idea won the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, sponsored by U.S. Aid for International Development, National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution, and wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. Paso Pacifico and its partners were awarded tech support along with $10,000 to bring the concept to fruition. “The plan is to start testing them in the next nesting season, which will start in July,” said Eduardo Boné-Morón, the organization’s managing director.

Right now, a few improvements are still needed. Though initial prototypes were revealed at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Paso Pacifico is still seeking out the best quality transmitters and is working with an art studio near Hollywood to perfect the shell’s texture and color. The eggs will then be placed in Nicaragua to test their success in tricking poachers. Said Boné-Morón of the plan’s next phase: “Our rangers will locate vulnerable active nests that are more likely to be poached, for example, nests that are closer to trails. We will plant as many eggs as possible in the beach to increase the possibility of poachers taking the artificial eggs.”

Sea turtle nest

Because the smugglers have to transport their precious goods immediately after poaching (the eggs spoil within 15 days), the tracker eggs may quickly reveal a wide web of illicit trade networks. “If these guys have the capacity to send an egg from a beach in Central America to China in 15 days, it’s a well-structured network,”  Boné-Morón said. He believes the eggs may implicate several rounds of middlemen passing the eggs along, as well as the initial poachers. He also hopes that some smugglers may be deterred by the knowledge that some eggs could be bugged: “Eventually the poachers will learn there is something wrong with the beaches. That is totally fine with us. The reason they’re poaching right now is because it’s so easy. If they see that we’re watching them, we may be able to discourage them.”

Once development and successful testing has been carried out, Boné-Morón wants to expand the use of artificial eggs to wherever sea turtles lay their eggs around the globe. “We want to have eggs that are cheap enough that any nonprofit or any government agency can buy them and plant them on the beaches all over the world,” he said.

Source: Platt, John R. “Faking Out Poachers With 3-D-Printed Sea Turtle Eggs. ” Takepart, 24 March 2016.

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Forest Turtles Confiscated

Confiscated Forest Turtles

Authorities in Palawan confiscated on June 18 a shipment of 4,200 critically endangered forest turtles that are believed to be destined for the Chinese black market with an estimated value of around US$400,000.

The endangered animals, comprised mostly of highly valued “Siebenrockiella leytensis”, also known as the Philippine pond turtle, were rescued in a warehouse owned by a Chinese trader living in Bataraza town near the southernmost tip of the province.

Alex Marcaida, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) information head, told Inquirer that the raiding team, composed of PCSD enforcers and members of the Provincial Law Enforcement Task Force, were preparing to file charges against a certain Peter Lei, said to be a Chinese national but a long-time resident in the area and owner of the warehouse.

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The turtles were turned over to a government-run rehabilitation facility, the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre, and Katala Foundation in preparation for their release in the wild, according to Marcaida. At least 90 turtles were already dead when they conducted the raid.

The wildlife shipment, according to one of the enforcement team members, was being prepared for shipment to China, where the turtles are in demand both as food and as pet. Marcaida said they believed the turtles were collected mainly from various parts of northern Palawan where the endangered species are believed to be abundant.

“The black market rate in China for these species is around $200 a kilo,” Marcaida said. Marcaida said they were preparing charges against the trader for violation of the Philippine Wildlife Act, Republic Act No. 9147

siebenrockiella_leytensis_webphoto

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