While anecdotal evidence has long suggested that the illegal trade in turtles was booming in South East Asia, there were few reliable statistics and no accurate picture of the scope and scale of the regional trade. But now there is – and it’s alarming.

In 2014, the Indian Ocean Sea Turtle Agreement (IOSEA) released a report on the “Illegal Take and Trade of Marine Turtles in the IOSEA Region”, which looked at key trends and patterns since 2000. It highlighted the extent of the trade in meat, shells and eggs, and the fact that it seemed to be expanding despite attempts to rein it in.

The report found that the main regional trade route for whole turtles and turtle derivatives seems to originate in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The products are shipped mostly to East Asia, where demand is reportedly on the rise – both Chinese demand for turtle meat and medicine, and Japanese and Taiwanese demand for traditional crafts made of turtle scute.

Clearly, it is time to intensify regional efforts to tackle the illegal trade. And some key steps have already been taken.

Over the past four years, TRAFFIC has worked with the Chinese authorities and other local stakeholders to focus attention on the need for greater enforcement to control the illegal turtle market. One notable success was in the town of Beihai. After TRAFFIC identified it as a turtle trafficking hotspot, the local authorities launched a concerted campaign of enforcement and education in 2014, which led to a huge reduction in the trade.

Meanwhile, in June 2014, TRAFFIC and WWF brought together government representatives from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam, whose ships play a crucial role in the trade according to the IOSEA report. They all committed to improving intergovernmental cooperation to curb the illegal trade.

But governments alone cannot end rampant turtle trafficking in South East Asia. So WWF and TRAFFIC are joining forces with IOSEA and others to expand efforts to help tackle the trade, which is threatening the survival of endangered turtle populations across the region.

Estimated marine turtle derivatives reportedly traded
in South East Asia