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Protecting Freshwater Turtles


A rare giant soft-shelled turtle swims in Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Several proposals to increase protections for freshwater turtles and tortoises were proposed by the United States and adopted this month.

Several proposals to increase protections for freshwater turtles and tortoises under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, were proposed by the United States and adopted this month by member nations of the Treaty.


CITES is an international agreement initiated in 1973 that regulates global trade in imperiled wild animals and plants including their parts and products. Currently 178 countries have signed the agreement.

CITES member nations, or “Parties,” voted March 8 in Bangkok, Thailand, to increase protections for 44 species of Asian freshwater turtles and tortoises and three species of North American pond turtles.

“More than half of the world’s freshwater turtles are threatened with extinction, yet they continue to be traded, unsustainably, for food, as pets, and in traditional medicines,” said Bryan Arroyo, head of the U.S. delegation to the CITES 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, or CoP16. The proposals were a “significant step forward to begin managing that trade,” he continued.

The United States jointly submitted with China two proposals to increase CITES protection for a number of Asian softshell and hardshell turtle species. These proposals were agreed by consensus with strong support voiced by range states Thailand, Japan, India, Pakistan, Liberia, Indonesia, and non-range states Guinea and Paraguay.

“Freshwater turtles worldwide are in desperate need of conservation, and the outlook for Asian turtles is especially grim. We are committed to working with China and Vietnam and other CITES member nations to ensure the survival of these species,” said Arroyo.

As Asian species have become increasingly depleted, trade patterns are shifting to species native to the United States. To address this growing problem, the United States proposed to list three native turtle species—the diamondback terrapin, spotted turtle, and Blanding’s turtle — in CITES Appendix II to manage the trade in a legal and sustainable manner. Canada, Senegal, and Ireland, on behalf of the 27 member states of the European Union and Croatia, among others, voiced strong support for these proposals before they were agreed by consensus.

“We must address this issue by taking a broad scale approach to protecting freshwater turtles and tortoises,” said Mr. Arroyo. “If we fail to consider these trade patterns, we risk the depletion of turtles and tortoises one species at a time.”
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