Marine Turtles: Worth more alive than dead

Posted on
25 May 2004
The study – the first to assess the economic value of sea turtles on a global scale – compared the revenue generated from killing turtles or collecting their eggs with that generated from tourism at a total of 18 sites in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

At nine sites, where turtles are used for their meat, eggs, and shells, the average annual income from these products was $582,000 whereas at nine locations where turtles are a tourist attraction, the average annual income was nearly three times higher at US $1.65 million.

At the biggest and most established site in Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica, marine turtle tourism brought in US$6.7 million annually.

Since this type of ecotourism began in the late 1980's it has become increasingly popular. Currently some 175,000 people take sea turtle tours annually to more than 90 sites in more than 40 countries.

"This study confirms what we've suspected all along -- sea turtles are worth more to local communities alive than dead, " said Carlos Drews, WWF's regional coordinator for marine turtle conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

"Developers, politicians and community leaders should start to see marine turtles as a valuable asset, generating revenue and jobs. Tourism and turtle protection may in fact increase their economic value."

Turtle populations are in steep decline in many areas, as nesting beaches are converted to holiday resorts, turtles and their eggs are over-harvested for food and turtles are accidentally caught and killed in fishing nets.

Six of the world’s seven marine turtle species are endangered or critically endangered. The WWF researchers found that sea turtle populations were declining in areas where they are exploited and rising or stable where they are not.

"The continued decline of sea turtle populations will have serious economic consequences, particularly for coastal communities in developing countries, said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director WWF's global Species Programme.

"This important new study shows that in addition to benefiting the species themselves, investments in their conservation are also investments in people and their livelihoods. 

WWF analyzed nine case studies of consumptive use, which include examples of use for meat, shell, eggs, bone and leather in countries bordering the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Gross revenue from these sites range from US$158 to US$1,701,328.

The median revenue was US$264,091 and the average annual income from these products was US$582,000.

WWF analyzed nine case study sites of non-consumptive marine turtle use which were major generators of revenue.

The lowest annual revenue was US$41,000 and the highest US$6.7 million.

The median was US$975,044 and the average US$1.6 million.

The revenue from the non-consumptive sites ie those where turtles are a major tourist attraction includes all expenditure (food, accommodation, souvenirs, transport and other costs) incurred by tourists during their time at the turtle watching location.

Three of the seven existing species of marine turtle are critically endangered with extinction, three are endangered and due to insufficient information the status of the seventh species remains unknown.

All marine turtle species are currently listed on Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) prohibiting any international commercial trade by more than the 160 signatory countries.

Even so, trade between non-signatory countries and illegal trade persist. In addition to projects aimed at discouraging the consumptive use of turtles, WWF is also working worldwide to reduce the unintended catch of turtles by fishermen.

WWF supports projects on sea turtles in 40 countries worldwide. WWF supports the use of technologies such as turtle excluder devices (TEDS) on trawl nets, and new hooks (Circle hooks, not "J" hooks) which can significantly reduce the accidental catch of turtles and their deaths by drowning from fishing in many parts of the world.