Hawksbill Turtles in Cuba

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Science  08 Aug 1997:
Vol. 277, Issue 5327, pp. 749-753
DOI: 10.1126/science.277.5327.749b

In his article “Turtle project can't outrun bureaucracy” (News & Comment, 20 June, p. 1785) Jeffrey Mervis states that Cuba is seeking limited trade of hawksbill sea turtles on the grounds that its population is self-contained. The Cuban proposal at the 10th meeting of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna) in Harare did not say that hawksbills in Cuban waters were a closed population; it argued that the data were consistent with some hawksbills being relatively residential in those waters.

The main grounds for the Cuban proposal were that hawksbills in its waters were well managed and that the proposed quota for trade was conservative, almost a tenth of the harvest levels that had been sustained for more than two decades. These are more important matters than whether some turtles cross international boundaries. However, to the extent that such movements do occur, one would think that other Caribbean nations would give Cuba some credit for having reduced its harvest by about 90%. And, in fact, although the Cuban proposal did not obtain the two-thirds majority necessary for CITES approval, more parties voted for it than against it.

Sustainable use as a conservation method has been effective with vicunas and crocodiles; it should be given a chance with sea turtles.

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