U.S. ignores sea turtle deadline
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1998:
WASHINGTON D.C.––The U.S.
was to tell the World Trade Organization by
December 6 what it plans to do to bring sea turtle
protection into line with the General
Agreement on Trade and Tariffs.
Ignoring the WTO could bring trade
sanctions. But with President Bill Clinton and
Congress engaged in impeachment hearings,
the deadline passed with scant notice.
The U.S. on November 6 formally
accepted an October 12 WTO appellate court
panel ruling that barring shrimp imports from
nations whose shrimpers don’t use Turtle
Exclusion Devices (TEDs) is a so-called
“process standard,” violating GATT.
The verdict upheld the April opinion
of a GATT trade tribunal.
The outcome may be Congressional
repeal or weakening of the TED requirement
––likely to be favored by House Speaker Bob
Livingston (R-Louisiana), who in November
succeeded Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia).
Like Gingrich, who has a long association
with Zoo Atlanta, Livingston has background
in zoological conservation––of sorts; at
age 14 he was an elephant poop-scooper at the
Audubon Park Zoo in New Orleans.
More recently, Livingston has helped
lead Congressional opposition to TEDs, hated
by the shrimpers of his home state, and has
also opposed a strong Endangered Species Act.
The shrimp import embargo was
imposed under 1989 amendments to the ESA,
which forbade the sale after 1991 of any shrimp
netted without TEDs in waters frequented by
India, Malaysia, and Pakistan filed
the GATT complaint, joined by Thailand,
which has long required TED use, but also
holds that the U.S. embargo is unfair.
Two members of a British group calling
itself the Biotic Baking Brigade on October
30 responded to the WTO ruling by crushing
cream pies over the head and face of WTO
director-general Renato Ruggiero, 69, after
Ruggiero discussed the ruling with the Royal
Institute of International Affairs in London.
Response in the U.S. has been contrastingly
Congress already gave sea turtles
short shrift with a rider to the 1999 Interior
Appropriations bill which removed numerous
inhabited islands from the protected Coastal
Barrier System, despite a recent U.S. district
court decision that this could not be legally
done. This increased the vulnerability of sea
turtle nesting sites to development.
The only recent good regulatory news
for sea turtles in U.S. waters was a December 3
recommendation by the South Atlantic
Fisheries Management Council that sargassum
weed collection off the Carolinas, Georgia,
and Florida should be phased out by 2001.
Before taking effect, the recommendation
must be ratified by the National Marine
The Caribbean Conservation Corporation
and Sea Turtle Survival League sought
the phase-out to limit the growing use of sargassum
to feed livestock.
“Sargassum plays a vital role in the
early life of sea turtles,” a CCC release explained. “Once
hatchlings reach the ocean from their nesting beach, they swim
out to the floating mats,” which “provide food and cover.”
But the greatest threat to sargassum is beyond the
200-mile limit of U.S. jurisdiction, and comes from Asian vessels.
The only U.S. sargassum processer, Aqua 10
Laboratories of Beaufort, North Carolina, reportedly uses less
in a year than some foreign vessels collect in days. The
strongest pressure to protect sargassum came from U.S.-based
commercial fishers, since sargassum is also a key part of fish
habitat. And even if all the sargassum in U.S. waters is strictly
protected, there is still only a fraction enough to shelter a
viable sea turtle population.
Formed by the United Nations, the WTO is the
supreme authority over GATT, a 133-nation covenant which
seeks to eliminate trade barriers.
“Process standards,” a major GATT target, require
that imported articles must be made by certain means.
Nations with well-paid labor––like the U.S.––have
historically used process standards to protect their workforce
against cheap imports. Process standards have also been used
by less developed nations, notably Mexico and India, to protect
industries using obsolete methods.
But in recent years, as Anne Swardson of T h e
Washington Post recently explained, process standards and
resultant trade disputes “often have little to do with traditional
trade barriers. Instead, many trade wars are fought over hormones
in beef, or genetically modified foodstuffs––or sea turtles.
Yet they are argued and settled by lawyers and economists,
not medical experts or scientists,” because as GATT
was framed, almost half a century ago, free trade takes precedence
over environmental and public health concerns.
GATT enforcement is further complicated by nations
such as Japan, which allegedly use the pretext of protecting the
environment and public health to perpetuate trade barriers originally
adopted for economic reasons.
“The environment loses in every case,” said Sea
Turtle Restoration Project spokesperson Peter Fugazzotto, of
Forest Knolls, California.
In January 1998, a WTO appellate panel upheld an
October 1997 ruling that the European Community unjustly
barred imports of beef raised with the use of synthetic hormones
to promote weight gain. The EC has not yet lowered the
barriers, which chiefly affect U.S. producers.
Earlier, the WTO ruled that the former U.S. ban on
imports of tuna netted “on dolphin” violated GATT. Thus
Congress in 1996 replaced the import ban with a looser standard
which allows tuna netters to kill up to 5,000 dolphins per
year. However, since netting “on dolphin” kills fewer endangered
sharks and sea turtles than setting nets around floating
logs, the most popular alternative method, many leading conservation
organizations favored the change.
[A new Royal SPCA/Eurogroup for Animal Welfare
report entitled Conflict or concord: Animal Welfare and the
World Trade Organization reviews other animal-related trade
dispute histories, and issues recommendations to reconcile
WTO and animal protection goals. Download it from the
RSPCA web site: >>http://www.rspca.org.uk<<.]
Ironically, the WTO verdict on the U.S. TED
requirement came six weeks after the environment and forests
ministry of India acknowledged the deaths of at least 16,000
sea turtles this year in trawl nets off the coast of Orissa, up
from only 1,244 in 1996.
The data suggests that when the WTO appeared likely
to strike down the U.S. shrimp embargo and TED rule, Indian
shrimpers lost their incentive to spare sea turtles.
Indian environment minister Suresh Prabhu responded
by mandating TEDs––just as the U.S. wanted.
But Prabhu acted too late to help sea turtles during
the 1997-1998 nesting season, Visakha SPCA founder Pradeep
Kumar Nath told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“The nesting season was a disaster,” Nath confirmed,
“with no help from any quarters. There were large numbers
coming ashore this season, but without financial help we could
only protect a few” nests from poachers, and nothing could be
done to help the mothers as they struggled back out to sea.
[Nath asks that contributions to protect nesting sea
turtles in Visakhapatnam be directed to the Visakha SPCA, 26-
15-200, Main Road, Visakhapatnam 530 001, India.] Similar consequences followed the April GATT panel
verdict in Malaysia. Off Kuala Terengganu, turtle deaths in
fish nets tripled, Terengganu Turtle Advisory Council chair
Datuk Baharuddin Ismail told the Malasia Star. Green turtle
landings fell from 5,500 as recently as 1991 to just 2,900.
Fighting the TED requirement, Malaysia tried just
about every other turtle-saving tactic anyone could think of to
show good faith––with little success.
In June, a plan was announced to develop sea turtleoriented
tourism on Upah Island, a major hawksbill nesting
area. The scheme evidently cut into the revenue from sea turtle
tourism at Terengganu, which was already hurt by the weak
A Universiti Putra Malaysia Terengganu plan to fund
turtle nest protection by encouraging tourists to “adopt” the
nests, begun in 1996, only found sponsors for 101 of the 377
nests available this year.
In July 1998, national marine park director Kevin
Hiaw Wai Pang said his office would campaign against eating
turtle eggs, and would protect more nesting sites. Little more
was heard of that, however, until mid-September, when an
alleged egg poacher was arrested in possession of 310 eggs.
Construction of artificial reefs to attract sea turtles to
the vicinity of the proposed Talang Talang Marine National
Park began on September 21.
Sarawak Museum curator of natural history Charles
Leh was pessimistic, however, about the prospects. In 1997,
his staff incubated 260,000 turtle eggs, including some from
each known landing, hatching and releasing about 160,000
young turtles. This year, as of October 14, they had only
6,000 to 7,000 eggs under incubation.
“Thirty-five years ago,” Leh told Roger J. Duyong of
the Sarawak Tribune, “three million hatchings during a season
would be common.”
The Asian economic crisis worsened matters by stimulating
traffic in poached eggs, shells, and turtle meat. Major
sea turtle parts trafficking rings operating via Singapore were
cracked in June and November, and Seychelles vice president
James Michel torched $115,000 worth of contraband turtle
shells bought from craftsmen on November 23, as part of the
Miss World pageant.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S.
Coast Guard in August 1998 announced that TED compliance
off Texas has climbed to between 92% and 98%.
In 1994, 87 sea turtles washed up dead along the
Texas coast during the first three weeks of the shrimping season,
but during the next four years the toll for the same interval
was 34, 53, 41, and 25.
Other observers were unconvinced. Official 1997
data continued to indict shrimping as the single biggest cause of
sea turtle deaths. The Texas shrimp season was temporarily
closed from late May into early July 1997. Only 13 sea turtles
were found dead during those eight weeks. Ninety-one sea turtles
were found dead during the previous eight weeks, however,
and 109 were found dead during the eight weeks afterward.
A record 144 sea turtles washed up dead along the
Texas coast in March and April 1998. Their causes of death are
officially unknown––but lack of wounds on most of the bodies
suggests they might have drowned in fishing or shrimping gear.
Also officially unexplained are the deaths of 184 sea
turtles found dead along the Virginia coast in May and June
1998, up from just 74 in 1995. And the summer 1998 count of
162 known dead sea turtles along the South Carolina coast doubled
the recent low of 81 in 1991––but was well below the
1987 high of 268, reached before TED enforcement began.
The 1998 toll may surge again as result of extended
waivers of the TED requirement granted to shrimpers in the socalled
“inside waters” of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana,
after floating debris from Hurricane Georges “was rendering
the equipment useless to save turtles and also reducing the
shrimp catch,” Associated Press reported.
A viral disease called fibropapilloma is compounding
the losses by killing loggerhead and green sea turtles in the
Florida Keys, off Hawaii, Brazil, and Argentina, and in many
other parts of the world. Fibropapilloma typically causes facial
tumors which eventually grow so large as to slowly starve the
victims by keeping them from eating.
Of about 100 victims treated at the Clearwater Marine
Aquarium since 1994, only about 25 have lived, according to
staff biologist Glenn Harman.
The most critical part of protecting sea turtles may be
protecting their nesting habitat. Efforts to do it began circa
1948, but have often been delayed by the hope that populations
could be maintained by gathering eggs, hatching them at protected
facilities, then releasing the hatchlings into the sea when
large enough to escape the heavy predation that afflicts their
newly hatched wild kin.
Now, however, scientists suspect that artifically
hatched sea turtles actually have a lower survival rate, as well
as lower fecundity.
Earth Island Institute and a coalition of local organizations
on October 17 proposed that the critical nesting habitat
of the Texas populations of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles be further
protected by creating a marine reserve, which would ban fishing
within 20 miles of the Padre Island National Seashore.
Of the record 13 known Kemp’s ridley nests in the
U.S. this year, nine were at Padre Island and most of the rest at
nearby Mustang Island. Thirty Kemp’s ridley sea turtles
washed up dead, however, including 18 on Padre Island.
But Padre Island is only fringe habitat for Kemp’s
ridley sea turtles, compared to the beach at Rancho Nuevo,
Mexico. There, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles this year laid 3,745
clutches of eggs, shattering last year’s record of 2,375.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most endangered
marine turtle species, but all sea turtles are in jeopardy.
Critical Mexican nesting habitat for loggerhead and
green sea turtles may be imperiled by resort development at
Xcacel, in Quintana Roo state, Greenpeace biodiviersity coordinator
Juan Carlos Cantu charged in a lawsuit filed on October
25 against the Spanish hotel chain Sol Melia.
The planned development will bring more human
traffic to Xcacel, and––perhaps more threatening to young sea
turtles––will bring lights to the inland side of the beach.
Usually emerging at night, newly hatched sea turtles follow the
moon and stars toward the water. Artifical lighting, however,
can cause them to run the wrong way, to their deaths from
dehydration, exhaustion, predation, and roadkill.
“More sales of the beach, which is 67 miles south of
Cancun, are planned,” reported Austin American-Statesman
international staff reporter Susan Ferriss.
Warned University of Florida at Gainesville marine
biologist Brian Bowen, “If Xcacel is lost, 20% of the genetic
diversity in Atlantic loggerheads and 22% of the genetic diversity
in Atlantic green turtles will be gone forever.”
The Mayob Ecology Group, of Cancun, reportedly
petitioned from the late 1980s until 1994 for Xcacel to be protected.
The Quintana Roo government finally took the matter
under study, only to reject strict protection in early 1998.
Quintana Roo environmental secretary Sergio Perez
Erales told Ferriss that Sol Melia is willing to sell the land and
development rights to project opponents––for $11 million, far
more than they hope to be able to raise.
Trying to persuade protesters that it is serious about
sea turtle protection, the Mexican environmental secretariat in
September announced that the Exportadora de Sal company at
Ojo de Liebre lagoon on Baja California has agreed to stop
brine dumping, blamed for killing at least 94 sea turtles in late
1997; heralded the seizure of about 115,000 turtle eggs from
two sites in Oaxaca, and the arrest of five people who were
caught hauling some of them; and, in early October, publicized
the release at Acapulco of 2,500 baby sea turtles hatched
at the Guerrero State Autonomous University.
Each action, however, raised questions.
Exportadora de Sal is owned jointly by the Mexican
goverment and the Mitsubishi company, of Japan. Why was a
government-owned firm menacing an endangered species?
If the Ojo de Liebre salt plant has jeopardized turtles,
what might result from the projected development of a similar
plant on San Ignacio Lagoon, a critical birthing habitat for both
sea turtles and grey whales?
How could anyone dig up 115,000 sea turtle eggs
without getting caught? And why hasn’t the Barra Vieja sea
turtle nesting site near Acapulco been protected?
Similar conflicts are underway in the Mediterranean,
where both Turkey and Greece are accused of favoring development
over sea turtles.
Near Antayla, Turkey, expanding beachfront tourist
facilities have limited green sea turtles to just four nesting sites,
and one of those, at Kumkoy, is reportedly imperiled by a plan
by the AS-KA construction company to build a 300-boat marina.
AS-KA claims the marina will help turtles by forcing fishers
out, and will feature barriers to keep light from shining on
the beaches. The dispute, pitting the ministries of culture and
tourism against each other, is now before the Turkish courts.
The European Commission, meanwhile, announced
on October 8 that it will seek penalities against Greece for
allegedly failing to protect sea turtle nests from “disturbances
due to tourism” on the island of Zakynthos, in the Ionian Sea.
The U.S. is in an awkward position to point fingers.
Only in October, for instance, did Volusia County, Florida,
finally publish a long debated proposed ordinance to protect sea
turtles by restricting beach lighting. But the cities of Daytona
Beach, Daytona Beach Shores, New Smyrna Beach, Ormond
Beach, and Ponce Inlet are still not covered. New Smyrna
Beach and Ormond Beach have enforced their own weaker
ordinances. Ponce Inlet has reportedly obeyed the county standard,
but the Daytonas––with the most beachfront development
and the most imperiled nesting sites––have put up fierce
resistance. The ordinance would affect the use of about 35,000
street lamps and lights in businesses and homes.
The Volusia County ordinance is impelled by an
August verdict by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals, favoring the contention of New Smyrna
Beach residents Shirley Reynolds and Rita Alexander that the
county is liable for turtle deaths resulting from failure to implement
The three-year-old Reynolds/Alexander suit was
cleared to proceed on October 19 when the full Court of
Appeals declined to review the panel finding.
The Court of Appeals reversed U.S. District Judge
Anne C. Conway, who had dismissed the Reynolds/Alexander
case after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted Volusia
County a special use permit exonerating it from blame for turtle
deaths. Prominent Democratic Party fundraiser William Crotty
was paid $25,000 to expedite the application.
Reported Derek Catron of the Orlando Sentinel,
“One September 1995 memo from a biologist in the USFWS
Jacksonville office showed that while the service didn’t know
how to spell Crotty’s name, it knew of his ties with U.S. vice
president Al Gore, whom Crotty helped in the 1992 election.”
Continued Catron, “There is no record of a meeting
between Crotty and Gore on the sea turtle question,” but
Interior Department director of communications Michael
Gauldin confirmed that Crotty did meet with Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt to discuss the matter.
After the Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruling, the
Volusia County council voted to pay a firm called Ecological
Associates Inc. $100,000 to seek a new or amended permit
which would allow present lighting practices.
The council has reportedly spent $750,000 to date
seeking, as Volusia-Flagler Sierra Club conservation chair
Kathy Marsh put it, “to excuse baby turtle deaths.”
While the fight dragged on, hatchlings from at least
21 of the 524 known sea turtle nests in Volusia County ran the
wrong way, toward the lights. Most were killed.
The latter part of the sea turtle nesting season was all
but wiped out along both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida
by Hurricane Bonnie in August and Hurricane Earl in
September. But about two-thirds of the nests that were expected
to hatch already had––and, somewhat making up for the
losses, loggerheads markedly extended their nesting range in
Georgia this year, producing 1,064 nests, up 25% from 1997.
U.S. waters only fringe on the most important sea turtle
habitat in the Americas. In May 1998, after four years of
negotiation, Costa Rica and Panama moved toward better protecting
the key Caribbean habitat by signing a joint sea turtle
conservation agreement which Nicaragua was expected to
endorse soon afterward.
As Caribbean Conservation Corporation director of
international programs Cindy Taft recently editorialized in the
CCC newsletter, “Costa Rica has the privilege of maintaining,
entirely within its borders, the nesting beach used by the
largest remaining population of green turtles in the Atlantic.”
Yet Costa Rica still permits sea turtle hunting.
“The actual number of turtles killed is difficult to
estimate,” Taft wrote, “but there is abundant evidence that it
far exceeds the quota of 1,800. Fishers flagrantly violate the
laws against taking turtles from the nesting beach and adjacent
protected marine areas. Even within Tortuguero National Park
the turtles suffer rampant hunting and egg collection. In 1997
at least 1,720 green turtles were taken directly from the beach,”
as witnessed and documented by CCC volunteers.
Some of the take enters the U.S., the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service found during a midsummer sting operation at
the John F. Kennedy International Airport near New York City.
Twelve people were arrested, and 75 pounds of sea turtle meat
were seized, along with 764 sea turtle eggs. One Franklin
Delano Reid of Costa Rica was reportedly caught with eight sea
turtle flippers, 490 eggs, and 30 pounds of smoked turtle meat.
Guatemala and El Salvador were apparently also
involved in the interdicted traffic.
Poaching along the north coast of Brazil is reportedly
now under control through the work of Tamar, an organization
identifying itself by the shorthand form of tartaruga marinha,
“sea turtle” in Portuguese.
Tamar was founded in 1980 by oceanographers Neca
and Guy Guagni de Marcovaldi, a married couple, three years
after Marcovaldi shocked the nation with photos of turtle
poaching which were published by major news media.
Tamar now maintains a head office at Paraia do
Forte, 750 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro; has 21 observation
posts overlooking turtle nesting beaches; and is planning a
$5 million theme park to promote sea turtles as a national icon.
Certainly it will take more than mere laws and law
enforcement to halt sea turtle hunting. Sea turtles haven’t been
legally hunted in Hawaii since 1979, but no sooner had biologists
reported the highest count since 1969 at French Frigate
Shoals than native Hawaiians clamored to hunt them again.
Some perhaps couldn’t wait: on September 14, U.S.
magistrate Barry Kurren sentenced one Nolan Kimo Perez to
serve six months on probation and do 200 hours of community
service for killing five green sea turtles. Defense attorney
Pamela Byrne insisted the turtles were killed by accident while
Perez was “catching fish to be served at a meeting of native
Hawaii healers,” the Maui News reported.
The Maui News later revealed that Republican statehouse
candidate Kalani Tassill and Democratic county council
candidate Dain Kane were arrested together for illegally capturing
one turtle and killing another on June 4, 1990.
Both said they later gave up fishing, as well as turtlecatching,
and regard the 1990 episode as a mistake.
Kain won a close race; Tassill lost a blowout