The majority (30/43 = 69.8%) of nations and territories in the Wider Caribbean Region fully protect locally occurring sea turtles, while 13 operate under regulatory regimes that leave one or more species seasonally subject to exploitation (Dow et al. 2007).
The ‘patchwork’ approach is less than ideal for species, such as sea turtles, that are migratory at all life stages. The legal framework protecting sea turtles should be consistent among range States; similarly, habitat protection policies should be geographically inclusive at the population level and embrace both nesting and foraging grounds in order to achieve conservation goals. That this is not presently the case carries consequences for individual turtles swimming between protected and unprotected jurisdictions, and, presumably, serves to diminish the effectiveness of moratoria and other conservation measures.
Legal fisheries typically mandate minimum size limits (by weight or shell length) – targeting large juveniles and adults in contradistinction to the best available science on population recovery. Frazer (1989) used the concept of reproductive value – a measure of the value to the population of an individual female turtle of a particular age – to emphasize the critical importance of ensuring that large turtles be protected, and noted that the regulatory framework in the WCR had been focusing sea turtle fisheries “incorrectly for over 350 years”. More contemporary mathematical treatments have only reinforced the conclusion that protecting large juvenile and adult turtles from exploitation is an essential component of any sustainable sea turtle management regime.
While Caribbean fishery managers recognize that “understanding these [life-history] aspects is fundamental to the development of management programs” Santo Domingo Declaration – Eckert and Abreu Grobois, 2001), the legislative framework has been slow to respond. With the exception of the Cayman Islands, all legal sea turtle fisheries are based on minimum size limits (by weight or shell length), targeting large juveniles and adults in contradistinction to the best available science on management and recovery.
Useful overviews of WCR sea turtle legislation, including gaps and inconsistencies, are available in Fleming (2001), Chacón (2002), Reichart et al. (2003), Godley et al. (2004), and Bräutigam and Eckert (2006).
Bräutigam, A. and K.L. Eckert. 2006. Turning the Tide: Exploitation, Trade and Management of Marine Turtles in the Lesser Antilles, Central America, Colombia and Venezuela. TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK. 533 pp. (Executive Summary only)
Chacón, D. 2002. Diagnóstico sobre el comercio de las tortugas marinas y sus derivados en el istmo centroamericano. Red Regional para la Conservación de las Tortugas Marinas en Centroamérica (RCA), San José, Costa Rica. 10 MB
Dow, W., K. Eckert, M. Palmer and P. Kramer. 2007. An Atlas of Sea Turtle Nesting Habitat for the Wider Caribbean Region. The Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network and The Nature Conservancy. WIDECAST Technical Report No. 6. Beaufort, North Carolina. 267 pp. electronic appendices.
Eckert, K.L. and F.A. Abreu Grobois (Editors). 2001. Proceedings of the regional meeting: “Marine turtle conservation in the Wider Caribbean Region: A dialogue for effective regional management.” Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 16-18 November 1999. WIDECAST, IUCN-MTSG, WWF and UNEP-CEP. 154 pp.
Fleming, E.H. 2001. Swimming Against the Tide: Recent Surveys of Exploitation, Trade and Management of Marine Turtles in the Northern Caribbean. TRAFFIC North America. 161 pp.
Frazer, N.B. 1989. Management options: a philosophical approach to population models, pp.198–207. In: L. Ogren (Editor-in-Chief), Proceedings of the Second Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFC-226. U. S. Department of Commerce, Miami.
Godley, B.J., A.C. Broderick, L.M. Campbell, S. Ranger and P.B. Richardson. 2004. An assessment of the status and exploitation of marine turtles in the UK Overseas Territories in the Wider Caribbean. Final Project Report for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Commonwealth Office, UK. 253 pp. (Executive Summary only)
Reichart, H.A., L. Kelle, L. Laurent, H.L. van de Lande, R. Archer, R. Charles and R. Lieveld. 2003. Regional Sea Turtle Conservation Program and Action Plan for the Guianas (K.L. Eckert and M. Fontaine, Editors). World Wildlife Fund – Guianas Forests and Environmental Conservation Project, Paramaribo. WWF technical report no. GFECP#10. 85 pp.