Turtles worth more alive than dead, says report

Posted: 27 May 2004

Marine turtle tourism brings in almost three times as much money as the sale of turtle products such as meat, leather, and eggs, according to a new economic study.

Money talks: Economic Aspects of Marine Turtle Use and Conservation published by the global conservation agency, WWF, shows that the worldwide decline in sea turtle populations jeopardizes jobs, tourism, and coastal economies, especially in developing countries, two-thirds of which have sea turtles.

Hawksbill turtle. Photo: WWF-Canon / Cat Holloway
Hawksbill turtle. Photo: WWF-Canon / Cat Holloway
Hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata, live on coral reefs where their favourite food, sponges, are most plentiful. Fiji.© WWF-Canon / Cat Holloway
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 US$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, Costa Rica, marine turtle tourism brought in US$6.7 million annually. Since this type of ecotourism began in the late 1980s 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 co-ordinator 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."

Declining populations

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. 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 of 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." Related links:

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