WASHINGTON (CN) - In a nod to World Turtle Day, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced today new protections for four freshwater turtle species to be published tomorrow.
To address the threat of "unsustainable and illegal trade" in native freshwater turtles, the new rule places the common snapping turtle, and the Florida softshell, smooth softshell and spiny softshell turtles under the protection of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The CITES listing will require exporters to obtain a permit before shipping turtles overseas. In 2014, the U.S. exported over 1.5 million of these turtles, according to the action.
"World Turtle Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world and to focus on stopping illegal trade in these species, which are threatened by unsustainable trade and wildlife trafficking. In 2013, we collaborated with international partners to adopt CITES protections for Asian freshwater turtles. Our own native species face the same global demand, so it is critical we protect them under CITES as well," Bryan Arroyo, the Service's Assistant Director of International Affairs, said.
The turtles are "collected, traded and utilized in overwhelming numbers," the agency said. In East Asia and China, turtles are used as food and for traditional medicines. The pet trade is also having an increased impact on turtle populations. A global approach to conservation is needed because when protection in one region is strengthened, it can lead to increased demand in areas where protections are weaker, according to the announcement.
"U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement investigations have documented illegally exported softshell turtles to markets in Asia," Ed Grace, the Service's Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement, said. "Listing these species under CITES will help engage our international partners to assist our special agents and wildlife inspectors in the fight against the illegal turtle trade, including investigating the criminals who profit from it."
Border officials have more authority and resources to inspect shipments of CITES-listed species, the action noted.
More than 180 governments have signed CITES, an international agreement aimed at ensuring that trade in imperiled species does not further threaten their survival. There are three levels of protection under CITES, designated by a species' placement on Appendix I, II or III.
The U.S. has placed these four turtles under Appendix III, which it can do independently of the two-thirds of voting parties' approval needed to add species under Appendix I or II, which are for species in danger of, or threatened with, extinction.
"Increased protections for freshwater turtles will continue to be a priority for the Service at the upcoming CoP17 [Conference of the Parties], which will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2016," the agency said. Three native species and 44 Asian freshwater turtles received increased CITES protections at the last Conference of the Parties.
The final rule, to be published May 24, will be effective Nov. 21, 2016.