Surge in Illegal Trade of Turtles and Tortoises Spells Trouble for Rare Species
Hot on the heels of three major tortoise and freshwater turtle seizures in Asia comes another seizure in Bangkok involving hundreds of animals and the arrest of two men suspected of attempting to smuggle them.
On March 12, Royal Thai Customs officers discovered 218 Black Spotted Turtles Geoclemys hamiltonii and 54 Indian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtles Chitra indica in check-in luggage.
The two Indian nationals, who took a flight from Gaya and Varanasi in India to Bangkok, were due to board a flight to Macau when their luggage was checked and the animals found.
Initial investigations show the end destination for the turtles was Hong Kong. The duo has been handed over to Royal Thai Police for further investigations.
“This previously unknown trade route for smuggling turtles from Gaya and Varanasi to Bangkok is often used by religious tourists,” said Dr. Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of TRAFFIC in India.
The involvement of Thailand, India and Hong Kong in the illegal trade in rare tortoises and freshwater turtles was highlighted earlier this year when more than a thousand specimens were confiscated from smugglers in three separate seizures. All three seizures passed through Bangkok, with at least two involving tortoises and freshwater turtles originating from India.
One of these recent seizures, which took place on Jan. 31, also included a number of Black Spotted Turtles, a species listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which therefore cannot be traded internationally for commercial purposes.
Another case involved a further 65 Black Spotted Turtles, discovered by Thai Customs and wildlife checkpoint officers at Don Mueang International Airport in unclaimed bags on board a flight from Chennai, India, along with 440 Indian Star Tortoises Geochelone elegans.
Both the Endangered Indian Narrow-Headed Softshell Turtle and the Indian Star Tortoises are listed in Appendix II of CITES, meaning any shipments must be accompanied by appropriate permits. Both species live in South Asia and are known to be traded for meat and as exotic pets.
India is not the only player in the trade from South Asia in tortoises and freshwater turtles. Seizures of cargoes in Bangkok originating in Bangladesh and Pakistan have also been recorded in the past 12 months.
There are also trade dynamics that point to intra-regional movements of these species. In February, 5,000 softshell turtles were seized in West Bengal en route to Bangladesh.
“Co-operation between India and other member countries of the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network is essential to combat the increasingly organized nature of wildlife crime in the region, and connect to destinations in Thailand, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia,” said TRAFFIC’s Dr. Niraj.
TRAFFIC’s experience across Asia is being marshaled to support governments—through information exchange, international dialogues, species identification skills and other capacity building efforts—to take the fight against illegal trade a notch higher.
“Catching the mules of the trade won’t be enough to stop the organized criminal elements that are driving the regions rare tortoises and freshwater turtles to the brink,” said Dr. Chris R. Shepherd, regional director for TRAFFIC in South-East Asia.
“Seeking out and stopping the big guns that control this trade should be the real focus of enforcement action.”
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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