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West Africa's sea turtles in danger of over-exploitation, treaty body warns

West Africa's sea turtles in danger of over-exploitation, treaty body warns

With a new study showing that some of the most important feeding and nesting sites of West Africa's sea turtles were under threat, officials from the United Nations environment agency and an affiliated international treaty body have called for urgent efforts to protect the reptiles.

The call for action followed the release of the first-ever comprehensive report on sea turtles from Africa's Atlantic coast. The study was commissioned by the Secretariat for the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the treaty body charged with conserving the world's vast array of migratory animals. CMS is linked with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

"The report's findings should spur us all to re-double efforts to protect sea turtles on Africa's Atlantic coast," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, who noted that populations of sea turtles in the Western Atlantic and Pacific Ocean have been falling dramatically in recent years.

According to the report, titled Biogeography and Conservation of Marine Turtles of the Atlantic Coast of Africa, the long beaches of southern Gabon hold the largest number of Leatherback turtles in the world, while Mauritania is considered to have the most important feeding grounds for Green turtles in West Africa. A newly discovered population of Loggerheads, which may be the largest in the Atlantic, has also been discovered on Boa Vista, part of the Cape Verde group of islands. Olive Ridley turtles, whose numbers are in sharp decline in South America, can be found nesting from Guinea-Bissau all the way to Angola, the report says.

"Traditional subsistence use of sea turtles is permitted, but large numbers are being systematically slaughtered for meat and their eggs sold for food, beyond what is sustainable," said Douglas Hykle, Deputy Executive Secretary of the CMS Secretariat. "Considerable numbers are dying after becoming entangled in fishing nets. Others are being killed for their shell, which is carved into ornaments or used for making tourist trinkets. Indeed there appears to be a trade in turtle shell both within and between some countries in the region, often in defiance of international trade laws on endangered species."

Written by Jacques Fretey, an internationally renowned sea turtle researcher and expert of the French Committee of IUCN-The World Conservation Union, the report draws on studies from a wide range of experts going back over a century to provide a review of sea turtle nesting sites in every range State from Morocco to South Africa.