Despite the fact that nearly all of the species of sea turtle are listed as "endangered" or "critically endangered," a new study has shown that a massive legal harvest of sea turtles occurs every year. According to research, 42,000 turtles are caught annually in the 42 countries and territories that allow the practice.
The study, conducted by Blue Ventures Conservation and staff at the University of Exeter's Centre for Ecology and Conservation, addressed only the legal take of turtles -- meaning that the actual harvest number is actually much higher.
"Despite increased national and international protection of marine turtles, direct legal take remains a major source of mortality," said Frances Humber of Blue Ventures. "It is likely that a fraction of current marine turtle mortality take is legal, with greater threats from illegal fisheries and bycatch."
The study, titled "So Excellent A Fishe," points out that laws protecting sea turtles date back to the 17th century. Says Phys.org:
The first marine turtle harvest legislation was instigated in Bermuda in 1620 to protect "so excellent a fishe" and prohibited taking any turtle "under 18 inches in the breadth or diameter". But large scale commercial taking of turtles continued all over the world for centuries, with global capture peaking at over 17,000 tonnes in the late 1960s. For example, during the peak of Mexico's sea turtle exploitation in 1968 it is estimated that the national take was over 380,000 turtles.
Though current catch rates have dropped by 60% since the 1980s, the study found that, more than 2 million turtles have been caught -- 80 percent of them endangered green turtles. Major threats to sea turtles include hunting for their meat and shells and being caught as bycatch due to imprecise fishing gear.
ACTION GUIDE: Endangered Species
Biodiversity loss and the extinction of rare species are one of the most important environmental problems today. Endangered species are identified by theIUCN Red List, the most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species in the world. Using the Red List's extensive database, you can search a particular species, location, habitat or threat, and learn more about issues facing threatened species and how to help. WWF has a great list of ways to help save endangered species, like buying sustainable seafood, not buying "bad souvenirs" and fighting climate change.