Author: L. Boura, S.S. Abdullah, M.A. Nada.
Date: June 2016
Journal: A report by MEDASSET – Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles.
Page number(s): 27 pp.
Click here to download report.
The Mediterranean coastal waters of Egypt host important foraging sites and migratory corridors for sea turtles in the Mediterranean. Trade of sea turtles in Egypt has been known to occur since the early 20th century and turtle consumption in Alexandria has been recorded since the 1970s. Since 1993, MEDASSET has monitored the illegal trade and carried out campaigns that led to law enforcement and conservation initiatives. The current survey is a follow-up of the last study in 2007. Alexandria’s markets were visited in September 2014 – March 2015 in order to record the trade status and to conduct interviews with 148 persons with the aim of gaining insight into current perceptions.The survey reveals that hidden trade persists and public trade has resumed. Trade was observed or reported in 6 markets in 3 areas of Alexandria. Turtles are sourced from fishers in Alexandria who mostly catch them incidentally. Fishermen land 90% of by-caught turtles instead of releasing them and reported an annual catch rate of 4.51 turtles/vessel (total 216.5 turtles/year by 48 interviewees). Fishmongers and artefact sellers also reported obtaining turtles from other Egyptian fisheries.Both loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and green turtles (Chelonia mydas) are targeted and there is a higher impact on adults, which are the most valuable reproductive segment of the populations. The rare leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) is also traded, as revealed by a police operation that was carried out by Egyptian authorities in May 2015 after MEDASSET submitted preliminary survey results.Fishermen either slaughter turtles on-board and consume or sell the meat directly to customers, or land turtles alive and sell them to fishmongers. Three fishmongers are specialised in turtle trade and at least 36 trade sporadically. Turtles are kept alive and emaciating from 1 to 30 days until slaughter. Interviews indicate that trade has increased by 60-120% in comparison to surveys in 1998-9 and 2007.Eighty-six percent of interviewees have consumed sea turtle meat, even though 90% were aware it is illegal and 79% knew sea turtles are endangered. Main drivers are tradition or alleged health benefits. The survey indicates that the community does not depend on turtles as a food source and the trade is not considered an important income, except by the few “specialised” fishmongers.
Fishermen and fishmongers also supply the artefact market. Sale of embalmed turtles and shells, including Red Sea hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) was observed in shops. Interviewees reported artefact sales to tourists, which may imply CITES infringements.
Other endangered species observed being traded were: Isurus oxyrinchus, illegally fished according to Mediterranean fishing rules; and Red Sea species Tridacna spp clams and Triaenodon obesus sharks.
The survey demonstrates that the last major hotspot of illegal sea turtle exploitation in the Mediterranean has yet to be eradicated. The implied 90% mortality rate of by-caught sea turtles is higher in the Alexandria fishery than in other Mediterranean fisheries that do not supply such a trade. Halting the trade to prevent unnecessary mortality and mitigating fisheries interaction in Egypt will benefit population recovery and amplify conservation efforts across the Mediterranean. Egypt’s importance as a priority area for marine turtle conservation is reconfirmed by the survey. The report provides useful recommendations on research, conservation and policy action.