Sea turtles in the Caribbean and Central America are under threat from overfishing and illegal trade, with almost all eggs laid in Guatemala taken by humans, a wildlife trade monitoring network said on Tuesday.
Traffic, comprising the WWF conservation group and the World Conservation Union, urged governments in the region to set tighter limits on catches to help safeguard the region's six species of turtles.
"Turtles may be adequately protected in some waters, but then travel into areas where they are at risk from unmanaged or illegal take," said Steven Broad, Traffic's executive director.
"Caribbean nations need to improve their cooperation to manage and conserve the region's turtles," he said in a statement issued on the sidelines of a U.N. Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species in The Hague.
Traffic said overexploitation was a threat to the survival of the region's turtles, targeted for their shells, meat and eggs that are laid on beaches. All six species in the region are classified as endangered or critically endangered. "In Guatemala, virtually every turtle egg laid is collected for human consumption," Traffic said. By contrast, in Costa Rica, most eggs in trade were from a well-managed program operated at Ostional on the Pacific coast.
It also said once vast breeding colonies of green turtles in the Cayman Islands had all but vanished.
And it quoted estimates that populations of hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean were at most 10 percent of estimated totals around the time Columbus sailed the Atlantic in 1492.
Traffic said that more than half of the 26 nations surveyed — in Central America, island states in the Caribbean and Venezuela and Colombia — had weak regulations on turtle catches.