Why we need to protect our endangered species

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Marine turtles have been part of our ocean life for more than 100 million years and have played an important role in the lives of Pacific people.

The question that may well be asked now is, how much longer can they remain with us?

Current research suggests that despite some legislative and traditional controls on turtle harvesting, the past 50 years have seen a marked decrease in the turtle population in the Pacific Islands region.

Member countries and territories of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) have recognised the importance of conserving these reptiles.

They have declared 2006 as the Pacific Year of the Sea Turtle. In doing so, we aim to highlight community conservation of turtle nesting sites, strengthening legislation and policies to encourage sustainable management, and build partnerships for long-term turtle conservation.

Of the seven species of sea turtles in the world, six are found in our Pacific waters. Three species-the green, hawksbill, and giant leatherback turtles-commonly breed and forage in most of the 21 Pacific islands member countries.

According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), all sea turtles are now considered endangered by international trade. Marine turtle experts predict that if commercial trade continues, these species will soon become extinct.

In some parts of Vanuatu, turtles are killed for traditional reasons around the time of the first Yam Harvest.

Most laws concerning harvesting of turtles in SPREP countries and territories apply a minimum size limit rather than an outright ban. Some prohibit the harvesting of eggs or declare a season during which turtle harvesting is not allowed. This coincides with the nesting season. Others ban the sale of turtles or any by-products. Even so communities continue to kill turtles, primarily to consume and sell the meat or eggs.

Local fishermen know that October through February are the main nesting months. Too often entire beaches of eggs and turtles are harvested, with scant regard to the threat of extinction to which those actions may lead.

In part, this is why we need community support to protect the foraging and breeding