January 23, 2008 10:23 ET

Cuba Ends Turtle Hunt-WWF

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Jan. 23, 2008) - Cuba has banned the harvesting of all marine turtle species and products from its beaches and seas for an indefinite period, according to a Ministry of Fisheries Ministerial Resolution taken over the weekend.

The phase out of the marine turtle fishery in Cuba is the result of a joint effort by WWF-led by WWF-Canada-and the Cuban Ministry of Fisheries, with financial support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Conservationists have applauded the decision as a lifeline for the Caribbean's endangered marine turtles and the communities that co-exist with them. It benefits all turtle species hatching on beaches throughout the Caribbean and coming regularly to feed in Cuban waters, including the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.

"For many years, Cuba retained a legal 'fishery' of 500 hawksbills a year, with the hope of being able to trade their shells internationally," said Dr. Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International's Species Programme.

"This far-sighted decision represents an outstanding outcome for Cuba, for the wider Caribbean, and for conservation. Cuba is to be commended for the example it has set in intelligent decision-making, informed by science and the long-term best interests of its people," she added.

The two remaining fishing communities that were harvesting marine turtles in Cuba will be helped with funds and technical assistance to find sustainable economic alternatives, modernize their fishing fleets, re-train their inhabitants and engage them in hawksbill turtle protection activities.

"This success is a great model of collaboration by the Cuban Government, CIDA and WWF, with the full involvement of the communities affected," said Michael Bliemsrieder, Regional Director for Cuba and the Greater Antilles, WWF-Canada. "Participation of local people is crucial in developing sustainable solutions to pressing environmental problems."

The WWF/CIDA grant of over C$400,000 will also support the Ministry's Centre for Fisheries Research to become a regional hub for marine turtle conservation and research, capitalizing on decades of experience by leading Cuban scientists. It will also strengthen the Office for Fisheries Inspection (the Cuban Fisheries law enforcement group) to ensure compliance with the ban.

Along with other marine turtles, hawksbill turtles are threatened by the loss of nesting and feeding habitats, egg collection, entanglement in fishing gear, climate change and pollution. But the main threat to the hawksbills comes from continuing illegal trade in tortoiseshell.

The species is now classified as critically endangered after population declines estimated at 80 per cent over the last century. Its preference for feeding on sponges also means it plays a significant, but until recently unappreciated role in the continued health of coral reefs, by opening up new feeding opportunities for some varieties of reef fish.

The decision can be found at: http://www.cadenagramonte.cubaweb.cu/noticias/enero_08/190108_01.asp.

Editors Notes:

The species that will benefit from Cuba's decision are the green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles. Green and loggerhead turtles are endangered, while hawksbill turtles are critically endangered, according to the IUCN Red List. International trade in hawksbill turtle products is banned under the CITES convention. The ban reduces the pressure on turtles from hunting for meat and tortoiseshell.

The Cuban Ministry of Fisheries is the entity responsible for the management of the country's fishing industry; it also is in charge of the protection of Cuba's coastal and marine resources, sharing this effort with the Ministries for Environment and the Armed Forces.

WWF work on marine turtle conservation

WWF works in the Caribbean, as well as elsewhere in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Africa, on the conservation of hawksbill and other marine turtles. WWF works closely with governments, other NGOs, industries, and the public to conserve the species; reduce threats such as illegal trade, harvest, and bycatch; and help local communities to sustainably benefit from the presence of live turtles through ecotourism. WWF is studying the impact of climate change on hawksbills in the Caribbean.

This news release and associated material can be found on wwf.ca.

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