COMMENT: I recently visited another the Chinese city of Kungming where anyone can buy a tiny ‘cute’ turtle swimming around inside a tiny plastic bowl… It’s a toy. But read on, in THE INDEPENDENT today…
Turtles and tortoises are now the most endangered group of vertebrate animals, with more than half of their 328 species threatened with extinction, according to a new report.
Their populations are being depleted by unsustainable hunting, both for food and for use in traditional Chinese medicine, by large-scale collection for the pet trade, and by the widespread pollution and destruction of their habitats, according to the study Turtles In Trouble, produced by a coalition of turtle conservation groups.
The result is that their plight has never been greater, and the world’s 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles will become extinct in a few decades without concerted conservation efforts, the report says.
Asia is the worst affected region; of the 25 most endangered turtles, more than two thirds (17) are from Asia, a result of decades of massive exploitation. “For example, in just one market in Dhaka, Bangladesh, close to 100,000 wild caught turtles are butchered for consumption during a one-day religious holiday each year,” the report adds.
It goes on: “Furthering the problem is a lucrative international black market trade in pet turtles and tortoises that has escalated prices of some of the more rare species into the tens of thousands of dollars. Rumours even exist that some of the rarest Asian species are now commanding prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The world’s 328 species are divided into 263 fresh water and terrestrial turtles, and 58 species of tortoises (plus seven sea turtles which are not covered in detail by the report). With up to 54 per cent of the total considered threatened, turtles and tortoises are at a much higher risk of extinction, the report says, than other vertebrates such as birds, mammals, sharks and rays or even amphibians – which are usually considered the most endangered grouping.
“Turtles are disappearing fast and we are dealing with one of the most significant wildlife crises of our lifetime,” says Rick Hudson, President of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) http://www.turtlesurvival.org/. Several species are down to just a handful of remaining individuals.
No. 1 on the list is the Pinta Island tortoise, one of the Galapagos tortoises species that contributed to Charles Darwin’s theories on “natural selection”. Sadly, only a single male of this species, “Lonesome George”, remains alive today, and the report comments: “Ironically, Darwin and other travellers often ate many of the islands’ tortoises and released rats, goats and other animals, which significantly contributed to their decline.”
Close behind is the Red River giant softshell turtle of China and Vietnam, weighing more than 250lbs with a shell more than three feet long. With only four animals left, the stakes have never been higher. Some species are in danger of disappearing before scientists even find out where they live. Zhou’s box turtle (the 6th most endangered) has occasionally appeared in the turtle markets of China, but to date no one has located a wild population.
The report, Turtles in Trouble, can be downloaded at the link below.
Five under threat
Sulawesi forest turtle This semi-aquatic animal is endemic to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and was originally used in Chinese food in the early 1990s. Habitat destruction has reduced the forest cover on which it depends for survival.
River terrapin With males exhibiting striking seasonal breeding colours, these unusual and attractive turtles have now all but vanished.
Ploughshare tortoise One of the rarest tortoises in the world, there are now only a few hundred left in Madagascar.
Roti island snake-necked turtle This freshwater turtle is found on the tiny island of Roti in south-eastern Indonesia.
Geometric tortoise This small species is found in low-lying sandy areas of the Western Cape in South Africa.
Representatives from ZSL’s Conservation and Living Collections teams on Thursday participated in the launch of the Reefs at Risk Revisited report launch.
In the 10 years since the first Reefs at Risk analysis, threats have increased by 30 percent. This includes recent impacts from climate change which causes rising ocean temperatures and coral bleaching.
The most immediate and direct threats arise from local sources, which currently threaten more than 60 percent of reefs (about 150,000 sq km of reefs). Local threats include overfishing, destructive fishing, coastal development and pollution.
Unless steps are taken to reduce local pressure and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, the percent of threatened reefs will increase to more than 90% by 2030 and to nearly all reefs by 2050.
The report identifies 27 nations most vulnerable to coral reef degradation and loss in the world (of 108 reef countries assessed). The nine coun¬tries most vulnerable to the effects of coral reef degradation, due to high dependence on coral reefs and low adaptive capacity, are: Haiti, Grenada, Philippines, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji, and Indonesia.
The report makes 60 recommendations for action. ZSL’s coral reef conservation efforts respond to many of these, including supporting and implementing effective marine protected areas (in Chagos and the Philippines through Project Seahorse), building conservation and management capacity in coral reef nations (EDGE Corals, Project Seahorse), supporting the most vulnerable countries (e.g. Philippines through Project Seahorse) and influencing policy (Climate Change programme; GLOBE Action Plan for Coral Reefs).
The report was led by the World Resources Institute, along with the Nature Conservancy, the WorldFish Center, ICRAN, UNEP-WCMC, and GCRMN. One of the report’s authors, Dr Allison Perry, is a former member of the Project Seahorse team.
The full report can be downloaded at http://pdf.wri.org/reefs_at_risk_revisited.pdf
Confused by all the jargon….? This might be useful.
In meteorology, a tropical cyclone is a type of low-pressure system which generally forms in the tropics. The cyclone is accompanied by thunderstorms, and a circulation of winds near the Earth’s surface, which is clockwise in the Southern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the Northern hemisphere.
Tropical cyclones are classified into three main groups, tropical depressions, tropical storms, and a third group whose name depends on the region. A tropical depression is an an organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of less than 17 metres a second (33 knot or 38 mph). A tropical storm is an organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds between 17 and 33 metres a second (34-63 knot or 39-73 mph). The term used to describe tropical cyclones with maximum sustained exceeding 33 metres a second, varies depending on region, as follows:
hurricane in the North Atlantic Ocean, North Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, and the South Pacific Ocean east of 160°E
typhoon in the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline
severe tropical cyclone in the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160°E or Southeast Indian Ocean east of 90°E
severe cyclonic storm in the North Indian Ocean
tropical cyclone in the Southwest Indian Ocean
(This terminology is defined in WMO/TC-No. 560, Report No. TCP-31, World Meteorological Organization; Geneva, Switzerland; available online from http://www.bom.gov.au/bmrc/pubs/tcguide/globa_guide_intro.htm)
The definition of sustained winds recommended by the WMO is that of a ten-minute average, and that definition is adopted by most countries. However, a few countries use different definitions: the United States, for example, defines sustained winds based on a 1-minute average wind measured at about 10 metres (33 ft) above the surface.
The ingredients for a tropical cyclone include a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture, and relatively light winds aloft. If the right conditions persist long enough, they can combine to produce the violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains, and floods we associate with this phenomenon.
There is also a polar counterpart to the tropical cyclone, called an arctic cyclone.
Tropical cyclones with winds exceeding 33 metres a second are given names. These names are taken from lists which vary from region to region. The lists are decided upon either by national meteorological organizations, or by committees of the World Meteorological Organization. The names on the list are reused; however, tropical cyclones which cause major death or destruction have their names retired.
Atlantic names were originally assigned by the U.S. National Hurricane Centre, and are now maintained by the WMO. Other sets of names are used in the Eastern North Pacific, Central North Pacific, and the Western North Pacific (maintained by who?). The Australian Bureau of Meteorology maintains three lists of names, one for the Western Australian region, one for the Northern Australian region, and one for the Eastern Australian region. There are also Fiji region and Papua New Guinea region names (maintained by who?). The Seychelles Meteorological Service maintains a list for the Southwest Indian Ocean.