Cuba helps the Hawksbill turtle | WWF-Canada

Cuba helps the Hawksbill turtle

Cuba has thrown a lifeline to the Caribbean's endangered and critically endangered marine turtles with a ministerial resolution ending all harvesting of marine turtles effective from the end of January.

Such a resolution, ending Cuba's long standing harvest of 500 critically endangered hawksbill turtles a year, has been sought by conservationists for more than a decade. It will benefit turtles hatching on beaches throughout the Caribbean and coming regularly to feed in Cuban waters.

Like marine turtles worldwide, the Caribbean's endangered green and loggerhead turtles are threatened by the loss of nesting and feeding habitats, egg collection, entanglement in fishing gear, climate change, and pollution. Hawksbill turtles are also threatened by hunting for tortoise shell and suffered global population declines of 80 per cent over the last century.

"This far-sighted decision represents an outstanding outcome for Cuba, for the wider Caribbean, and for conservation," said Dr. Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International's Species Programme.

"Cuba is to be commended for the example it has set in intelligent decision-making informed by science and the long term best interests of its people."

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Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) laying eggs on a beach above high water mark.
© Martin HARVEY / WWF
The phase out of the marine turtle fishery in Cuba is the result of a joint effort by the Cuban Ministry of Fisheries and WWF, with financial support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

"This decision reflects the political will of the Cuban government to join the call of the international community to adopt measures that guarantee the conservation of marine turtles", declared Dr. Elisa Garcia, Director of Fishing Regulations at the Ministry of Fisheries of Cuba.

The two remaining fishing communities used to harvest marine turtles in Cuba are being provided with funds and technical assistance to help them implement specifically developed sustainable economic alternatives, modernize their fishing fleets, re-train their inhabitants and engage them in hawksbill turtle protection activities.

The WWF/CIDA grant of over $400,000 also supports the Ministry's Centre for Fisheries Research to become a regional hub for marine turtle conservation and research, capitalizing on decades of experience by leading Cuban scientists. It will also strengthen the Office for Fisheries Inspection (the Cuban Fisheries law enforcement group) to ensure compliance with the ban.

Recent research has shown that the Hawksbill's preference for feeding on sponges means it plays a significant but until recently unappreciated role in the continued health of coral reefs, by opening up new feeding opportunities for some varieties of reef fish.