Woman jailed for turtle shell smuggling

A woman from Seychelles has been sentenced to 3 months in jail for after being caught with 60kg of hawksbill turtle shells in her luggage by Singapore customs authority.

A Singapore newspaper, the Strait Times, reported on 15 March that the shells were discovered by Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers at Changi Airport, who found the “dense items” packed inside the bags rather unusual. The haul is estimated to be about $8,3000 worth, with some 60 turtles likely to have been killed to yield this amount of shells. (See Source: Straits Times)

The arrest comes on the heels of the just-ended meeting of the parties to the  Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which was being held in Bangkok, Thailand. CITES regulates all trade in wild animals and plants, and their products.

International trade in the Hawkbill turtle and its products (and indeed in all seven species of marine turtles) is banned by CITES because marine turtles are in danger of going extinct. Since 1994, Seychelles law also completely prohibits all harvesting and commercial trade in marine turtles.

Ironically, Seychelles is one of the few places with recorded success in Hawksbill turtle conservation. One of conservation’s success stories for the hawksbill turtle has been registered on Cousin Island Special Reserve, where a firmly established long-term monitoring programme started in 1972 has seen an eight-fold increase in nesting turtles.

Seychelles also has one of the worlds healthiest populations of marine turtles, according to a 2011 report produced by IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group. This first comprehensive status assessment of all sea turtles showed the hawksbill turtles populations in the Southwestern Indian Ocean (Seychelles, British and French Overseas Territories) and in Southeast Indian Ocean and Southwest Pacific Ocean (Australia) are the healthiest.

The worldwide population of Hawksbill turtles became endangered because of the over-exploitation of its shells for jewellery and  for items such as combs, brushes, spectacle frames and other luxury goods. Accidental catches of sea turtles by fishermen targeting other species and degradation of habitats also put sea turtles in danger.

Because Hawkbsill turtle reproduction is temperature-dependent, it is also expected that the effects of climate change, especially the predicted increases in temperature in the future, could affect sex ratios as well as survival of turtle clutches.

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