Published 24 July 2012


TRAFFIC helps train officers to combat illegal marine turtle trade in Hainan

Hainan, China, 24th July 2012—More than 110 fisheries enforcement officers from 29 border checkpoints, plus 10 officers from the Industry & Commerce department and border police, took part in an enforcement training workshop earlier this month in Haikou, Hainan Province, China.

The island province of Hainan is a major hub for the illegal trade in marine turtles in China. © Xu Ling / TRAFFIC

Research by TRAFFIC has identified the island province of Hainan as a major hub for the illegal trade in marine turtles in China. 

A survey in 2009 found significant levels of marine turtle trade, which had not declined by the time of a follow-up survey in April this year. 

This month’s meeting, organized by the Department of Ocean and Fisheries of Hainan Province in collaboration with TRAFFIC, provided participants with useful tools, knowledge and materials to strengthen their capacity to combat the illegal harvest and trade of marine turtles and other protected aquatic species.

Mr Xing Zhigang, Deputy Director of the Fisheries Inspection Division, Department of Ocean and Fisheries of Hainan, reminded participants about China’s relevant wildlife legislation, and reiterated why the laws were needed to help maintain the balance of marine eco-systems. He urged officers to enforce the laws appropriately during their daily activities.

International commercial trade in marine turtles is illegal under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Most countries in the region, including China, have national legislation that also protects marine turtles from commercial domestic trade. Despite this, illegal trade of marine turtle products – including shell, meat, eggs and whole specimens – still persists in the Asian region. 

Ms Xu Ling, TRAFFIC’s Senior Programme Officer in China, told participants about the mounting evidence that China had emerged as a major market for marine turtle products in recent years, with market surveys revealing a persistent illegal trade route to mainland China from the Coral Triangle region. 

The Coral Triangle refers to the tropical marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste where high coral species diversity is found. It is home to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles.  

Professor Shi Haitao, Vice-President of Hainan Normal University, spoke about turtle identification and conservation measures and distributed copies of his informative Identification Manual for Commonly Traded Turtles in China. Professor Shi noted that there had been considerable concern expressed over China’s ongoing consumption of marine turtles, which had marred international conservation efforts in recent years. 

Dr Shi Jianbin, Head of TRAFFIC’s China Programme remarked on the seriousness of the currrent situation: “One of the most urgent issues facing marine turtles in our region is the sheer scale of the trade and consumption, which is severely undermining conservation efforts. 

“Local enforcement agencies need to step up their efforts to detect and prevent the illegal marine turtle products being imported, manufactured or sold in China, and work with neighbouring countries to increase law enforcement co-operation to prevent further illegal harvest and trade of marine turtles,” Dr Shi said.

China’s National Inter-Agency CITES Enforcement Coordination Group (NICE-CG) has identified marine turtles as one of their priority species in combating wildlife crime.  Member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) have also focused most recently on combating illegal wildlife trade including marine turtle products in Southeast Asia, which was discussed at an inter-governmental consultation meeting in Nanning last month, focusing on wildlife law enforcement co-operation and CITES matters between the NICE-CG and the 10 member countries of ASEAN-WEN. 

“Increasing international collaboration between relevant institutions is a key step towards protecting marine turtles in China and the Coral Triangle region,” said Dr Shi. 

TRAFFIC thanks WWF’s Coral Triangle programme for financial support towards reducing marine turtle trade in China.