CITES COPS 11: Play by play, day by day: What'd they say?

Fetches a 33K JPEG From April 10, 2000 to April 20, signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held the Convention of the Parties 11 (COPS 11) in Nairobi, Kenya. This meeting, held every three years, decides which species will be protected and how much protection will be extended.

Among the species whose fate hung on the outcome of COPS 11 was the Caribbean hawksbill. As we have documented in the past months, Cuba--with Japan's encouragement and support--submitted a proposal to downlist the Caribbean hawksbill so that trade could be resumed in hawksbill shell, or bekko. We present here a blow-by-blow description of events as we saw them from the sidelines. The following excerpts were taken from postings to the CTURTLE mailing list and from various news reports and web pages covering the meetings.

Hawksbill proposals are a croc

On April 12, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IWC), WIDECAST, the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC), and over 20 international conservation groups signed a press release opposing the Cuban proposal in no uncertain terms.

Proposals from Cuba to re-open the trade in tortoise shell from Critically Endangered hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are being strongly opposed by the scientific and conservation community worldwide. Cuba has made two proposals under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Both would allow Cuba to sell to Japan its current stockpile of shell; one proposal would also allow the export of an annual quota of shell to Japan.

Some of the primary international consultants in the development and promotion of Cuba's proposals are crocodile experts as opposed to sea turtle biologists. Dr. Jeanne Mortimer, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the world's oldest sea turtle research and conservation group, said today:

"Unlike crocodiles, which many unfortunately consider to be a success in international trade, hawksbill turtles are highly migratory and extremely slow to mature. This, combined with their complicated life history and their severely depleted numbers, make it utterly premature to re-open international trade."

The full text of the release is available at the CCC's website.

The Japanese Wildlife Conservation Society states its position

On April 13, The Nando Times and Associated Press reported:

Japan also supports Cuba's proposal to reopen trade in the hawksbill turtle, which are used for jewelry. Cuba wants to make a one-time sale of the shells to Japan and obtain a quota for future sales under CITES.

"Every information we have shows that their population ... are increasing," said Masayuki Sakamoto, head of Japan's Wildlife Conservation Society.

"One thing I am sure is..."

Those of us not on the front lines could follow the issues and daily CITES reports through the scientific mailing list, CTURTLE.

Certainly from our perspective, the most grim revelation came from Dr. Rene Marquez M., Coordinador, Programa Nacional de Investigacion de Tortugas Marinas, in an April 18th message to the list:

"We can say here many things but the truth is that the future of the turtles in the Caribbean is uncertain, with or without the permit of Cuba to export the product of 500 hawksbill to Japan, one thing I am sure is that Cuba will continue harvesting that quantity but the difference is that they will not be able to sell the shell, and will lose the income of that and they will not be able to continue a kind of sea turtle program that they have now (I feel a model in the Caribbean) and we will lose the opportunity to expand such kind of program along the Caribbean countries."

The first vote

Then, after much tense waiting, on April 18 the CCC quoted a Reuters story from Nairobi, and the news was good:

Cuba loses bid for relaxation of turtle trade ban

NAIROBI, April 18 (Reuters) - Cuba's bid to relax a global ban on the trade in marine turtles narrowly failed on Tuesday when a U.N.conference refused to let it sell its stocks of rare hawksbill turtle shells.

Delegates at a 150-nation conference of the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted down a proposal allowing Cuba to sell its 6,900 kg (15,200 lb) of hawksbill shells to Japan in a one-off auction. Cuba needed to win two-thirds support but fell short with 66 nations voting in favour and 38 against. Fifteen abstained.

Cuba had also requested the right to catch and trade up to 500 hawksbill specimens a year from its waters, but withdrew that proposal in the face of broad opposition.

Still one more hurdle

It wasn't over yet, however. Here's a transcript of an audio report filed on April 19 at the CITESwatch web site by David Dewitt, explaining the situation:

"The committee forwards their recommendations to the Full Convention of Parties which generally accepts them. However committee recommendations can be overturned by the full body. So nothing as yet is set in stone. The rejected hawksbill sea turtle downlisting proposal is expected to be revisited.

"Other close committee votes that could signal reintroduction include the Norway Whaling proposal and the basking shark introduction. There's also a chance that the elephant ivory issue could come up again.

"So until the end of the convention tomorrow evening, interested parties will be holding their breath."

"...scientifically and morally unfounded, politically motivated"

On Thursday, April 20th, Japan, Cuba and Dominica were at it again for one last kick at the cat. Certainly one of the most bitter comments uttered during the Plenary must have been these words from Dominica, co-sponsor of the proposal, criticizing the critics:

"Some of the expressions of opposition expressed to Proposal 11:41 so far, have scientifically and morally unfounded, politically motivated and are aimed at serving the interests of those who have systematically attempted over the past forty years to bring Cuba to capitulation."

It's said "Time flies when you're having fun."

It's clear that we weren't having any. Time not only didn't fly, it barely managed to crawl! Thursday's waiting was agonizing!

Then CTURTLErs received this message:

Date: Thu, 20 Apr 2000 08:22:39 +0000

Dear all:

Today the Cuban proposal was presented again in the Plenary at CITES COP 11 and one more time was rejected with 67 votes in favor and 41 against. TEYELIZ want to congratulate all the people who worked so hard in favor of the conservation of this critically endangered species.

Keep up the good work and high spirit.


Maria Elena Sanchez

With this message, a stressful two weeks for sea turtle biologists, conservationists and enthusiasts came to a dramatic close.

All that was left were the thank you's

There were many to thank, and many who wanted to say thank you. David Godfrey of the CCC issued a thank-you on the CTURTLE mailing list that we reproduce here because he sums it up as well as anyone could:

Date: Thu, 20 Apr 2000 10:16:29 -0400
From: Caribbean Conservation Corporation
Subject: CITES Continues Ban on Hawksbill Trade

Here is the last update from Nairobi.

On the final day of the CITES conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Cuba's proposal to downlist a portion of the Caribbean population of hawksbill turtles from Appendix I to Appendix II was brought up for second vote of the CITES Parties. On Tuesday of this week, Cuba withdrew the first of its two proposals (11.40)which would have downlisted hawksbills in Cuban waters, and allowed a one-off sale of the almost seven tons of shell stockpiled by Cuba since 1993, as well as export of shell from a quota of 500 turtles annually.

The first vote on the second proposal (11.41) in Committee I, which would have downlisted the species in Cuban waters and immediately allowed Cuba to ship the stockpile to Japan, failed to receive the required 2/3 majority (66 Supported, 38 Opposed, 15 Abstained). In re-opening the debate in Plenary today, Cuba offered an amendment to the proposal, which would have required that hawksbill shell trade controls in Japan be investigated and approved by the CITES Standing Committee before the shipment could be made. Under the modified proposal, hawksbills in Cuban waters would have been downlisted to Appendix II.

The amended proposal also FAILED to obtain a 2/3 majority (67 Supported, 41 Opposed and 9 Abstained). All hawksbill turtles will remain on CITES Appendix I.

During the last two weeks, a wide array of conservation groups and scientists worked long hours to convince CITES delegates that the hawksbill turtle does not meet the CITES criteria for downlisting from Appendix I. "Team Turtle" also convinced delegates that re-opening trade in hawksbill shell, even through a one-time shipment of stockpiled shell, would stimulate illegal harvesting and trade around the world. In the end, our message prevailed.

Those of you who support the position that it is premature to downlist hawksbills should be aware of some of the organizations that worked tirelessly and effectively as a team over the last 14 days to achieve this result at CITES. The "Turtle Team" included: WIDECAST, Center for Marine Conservation, Japan Wildlife Conservation Society, Greenpeace, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Species Survival Network, Humane Society of the US, Defenders of Wildlife, WWF and Caribbean Conservation Corporation. Needless to say, there were many other groups and individuals who contributed to the effort, and we all express our appreciation. Many countries also spoke out in defense of hawksbills, and I would like to list a few of those here: The Bahamas, Costa Rica, Fiji, Brazil, Hungary, USA, Canada, Kenya, and United Arab Emirates. Bahamas and Costa Rica were particularly eloquent in their defense of hawksbills, and both have expressed their desire to work more closely with Cuba and other range states to develop a regional management plan for hawksbills in the Caribbean.

David Godfrey
Executive Director
Caribbean Conservation Corporation

"Cuba will continue harvesting that quantity"

Of all the audio-video reports, all the media coverage, and all the news articles, one person's words stand out. It's the comment Dr. Marquez shared with CTURTLE on April 18th. It bears repeating. The emphasis is ours.

"We can say here many things but the truth is that the future of the turtles in the Caribbean is uncertain, with or without the permit of Cuba to export the product of 500 hawksbill to Japan, one thing I am sure is that Cuba will continue harvesting that quantity but the difference is that they will not be able to sell the shell, and will lose the income of that and they will not be able to continue a kind of sea turtle program that they have now (I feel a model in the Caribbean) and we will lose the opportunity to expand such kind of program along the Caribbean countries."

So the threat is over--but it is certain Japan will be back. In fact, they've already vowed to continue pressing what they see as their rights.

In 1997 they dinged our door. This CITES round they battered the bolts and buckled the hinges. In 2002...?

Trax CITES ties: white hats on the left, black hats on the right

Turtle Happenings

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