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Shelled out? A Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in Southeast Asia

© 2004 TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
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Suggested citation: van Dijk, P.P. and
Shepherd, C.R. (2004). Shelled out? A
Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations
in South-east Asia. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
Front cover photograph: Close-up of
Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata
Photograph credit: Chris R. Shepherd/
TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
by Peter Paul van Dijk and Chris R. Shepherd
Credit: Chris R. Shepherd/TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
A bekko craftsman in his workshop in southern Viet
Nam, 2002
Acknowledgements iii
Executive summary iv
Introduction 1
Background 2
The Hawksbill Turtle – general species information 2
Bekko – history and recent trade 3
Conservation status and threats to marine turtles in south-east Asia 6
Regulation relevant to the protection of marine turtles in south-east Asia 8
Recent observations of Hawksbill Turtle trade in south-east Asia 10
Survey methods 10
Survey findings - Indonesia 10
Medan, North Sumatra 10
Bali 11
Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi 13
Survey findings - Viet Nam 15
Ha Tien, Kien Giang province 15
Mui Nai Beach, near Ha Tien 16
Chua Hang Pagoda, near Ha Tien 18
Ho Chi Minh City 19
Discussion 21
General trade levels 21
Origin of Hawksbill Turtle products and the trade chain in Viet Nam 21
Origin of Hawksbill Turtle products and the trade chain in Indonesia 22
International trade in Hawksbill Turtle products in south-east Asia 22
Potential for international trade in Indonesia and Viet Nam 24
Conclusions 25
Recommendations 25
References 27
The authors would like to thank Noorainie Awang Anak, Steven Broad, James Compton, Julie
Gray, Hisako Kiyono, Sue Lieberman, Tom Milliken and Adrian Reuter for their comments and
advice, which contributed to the completion of this report. This study was carried out with the
generous support of WWF-Netherlands, WWF-UK and completion of the report was
generously assissted by the Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation.
The Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata, is listed in Appendix I of CITES, the Convention
on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Therefore, its shell
products, known as bekko, are banned from international commercial trade by CITES. Bekko
trade is also banned from domestic trade by national legislation in an increasing number of
countries. Illegal trade, however, continues - with South-east Asia remaining one of the regions
of supply. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia carried out surveys in two traditionally key countries
involved in the bekko trade, Indonesia and Viet Nam, in September/October 2001 and February
2002, respectively, to establish the status of trade and stockpiles of bekko in selected locations.
In the locations surveyed in Indonesia, trade in Hawksbill Turtles, particularly open retail trade,
appeared to have declined considerably over the decade preceding the survey. Wholesale trade
also appeared to have declined and remaining trade had moved underground. Stockpiles
seemed to have diminished significantly. Three former bekko traders in one location in
Indonesia were found to be dormant in the trade, but claimed to be awaiting an opportunity to
resume trade if legal exports were allowed again. Any indication that legal international trade
in bekko may be resumed could be taken as encouragement for rebuilding stocks by some
Indonesian traders. This would be likely to lead to increased exploitation pressure on remaining
regional Hawksbill Turtle populations. The risk of this happening would be reduced if the
Indonesian Government were to update its stock records and gave an emphatic message that it
has no intention of seeking CITES authorization to resume exports.
At the time of the survey in Viet Nam, trade in Hawksbill Turtles and their products in that
country had increased from trade levels described for 1993. Inclusion of the Hawksbill Turtle
under Vietnamese protective legislation in April 2002 was a potentially significant step forward
for efforts to conserve remaining populations of the species in Viet Nam.
In both Viet Nam and Indonesia, trade dynamics at the time of research for this survey
demonstrated that urgent action was needed to address the take and trade of Hawksbill Turtles,
irrespective of events in the CITES forum. TRAFFIC recommends the following actions be
taken in order to control the trade of Hawksbill Turtle products and to aid in the prevention of
further violations of national legislation and CITES regulations:
Hard data are needed urgently on existing Indonesian stockpiles of bekko, as any indication
of resumption of its international trade, from any country, could lead to requests from
Indonesian traders to be allowed to sell their stockpiles, and the stockpiles are likely to be
increased preceding such requests.
Illegal stockpiles of bekko should be seized by the Indonesian Government, in accordance
with the law, to prevent further illegal export.
Efforts by government authorities and NGOs in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the
Philippines, and other regional Hawksbill Turtle range States, to address illegal exploitation
and trade of Hawksbill Turtles and their parts, should be acknowledged, supported and
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia iv
Any existing or proposed Hawksbill Turtle ranching projects in Indonesia should be
monitored closely, as these are suspected to represent potential laundering operations.
An updated survey of the bekko industry and trade in Yogyakarta, Java, should be carried
out, as this city has been identified as possibly being an important centre in the trade.
Further trade and stockpile surveys are needed in Ujung Pandang and trade surveys are
recommended in West Sumatra, Nias, Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), and other areas where
significant harvest and trade of Hawksbill Turtles is known or suspected to occur.
In Viet Nam, public education and awareness, aimed at both traders and buyers, should be
initiated to publicize the recent full protection status afforded to the Hawksbill Turtle.
Campaigns to encourage people to refrain from buying Hawksbill Turtle products and to
make foreigners aware of the CITES legislation forbidding the international trade and
transport of this species and its parts should be continued, and increased where possible.
Viet Nam’s legal protection of Hawksbill Turtles should be followed up with targeted
enforcement actions, including for the purpose of tackling domestic trade, and for increasing
efforts to detect and prevent further illegal exports of Hawksbill Turtle products from Viet
A further survey in Viet Nam should be initiated to assess the impact of recently
implemented domestic market controls on the continuing availability of bekko products
throughout the country.
Regional seizure monitoring should be organized for all South-east and East Asia, to help
track the incidence of commercial shipments.
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia v
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia vi
Figure 1
Map of South-east Asia, showing some of the key locations mentioned in the
Map preparation: N.A. Anak
The shell plates – or scutes – of the Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata (Linnaeus, 1766)
have been in use for centuries for the manufacture of ornaments and other objects. The taking
of Hawksbill Turtles to obtain this raw material, known as bekko, is recognized as a key threat
to their conservation in the wild and has greatly contributed to their status as critically
endangered. The species is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means that international
commercial trade in the species and its parts and derivatives to or from CITES Parties is
effectively banned.
At the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP11), Cuba proposed to
sell the stockpile of 6.9 t of Hawksbill Turtle scutes that it had accumulated as a by-product of
its Hawksbill Turtle harvest from 1993 to March 2000 (Anon., 2000a and b) and to allow an
annual trade of scutes from up to 500 turtles (Anon., 2000a). Cuba's proposals were hotly
debated (Richardson, 2000). The proposals were rejected by a narrow margin and a very similar
proposal was submitted for the twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES
(CoP12) (Anon., 2002a). Under this proposal (Prop.12.30), Cuba requested CITES Parties
allow it to sell its accumulated stockpile of 7800 kg of Hawksbill Turtle scutes in a one-off
transaction, provided the importing country undertook to ensure that the scutes would be
registered and monitored carefully. In the lead-up to the CoP, diverse opinions on the proposal
were expressed. Some were of the view that the transaction in question would provide
additional resources for careful management of Hawksbill Turtles, thereby benefiting the
species as well as commercial interests. Others argued that it would set a precedent for future
transactions and might facilitate ‘laundering’ of Hawksbill Turtle scutes from other sources
(Anon., 2002a), thus leading to increased exploitation pressures on populations of the species
elsewhere in the Caribbean, in South-east Asia and beyond. Cuba withdrew proposal Prop.
12.30 on 19 August 2002.
To contribute to its global marine turtle conservation, and specifically to assist in evaluating the
wider conservation implications that Cuba’s CITES Hawksbill Turtle trade proposals might
have had, if accepted, TRAFFIC decided in 2001 to investigate the trade in Hawksbill Turtles
and their products at South-east Asian locations of known or suspected high trade volume.
Particular emphasis was placed on identifying the opportunities which may be available to
abuse any transaction proposed under CITES and/or to facilitate the trading of any existing
stockpiles in South-east Asian countries at an international level.
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 1
The Hawksbill Turtle – general species information
Half a century of casual observations, detailed studies, monitoring programmes and population
management activities have resulted in a wealth of data concerning marine turtles’ breeding
biology, migration routes, exploitation pressures, incidental threats and conservation status.
Landmark reviews are Bjorndal, 1982; Anon., 1990; Meylan and Ehrenfeld, 2000; and Pilcher
and Ismail, 2000.
The Hawksbill Turtle is the most
tropical of all marine turtles: distri-
bution is pan-tropical and in South-east
Asia, the Hawksbill Turtle occurs, or
occurred, throughout coastal waters in
suitable habitat. Hawksbill Turtles
inhabit coral reef areas and generally
nest on nearby beaches, preferably
those of smaller islands, but may
migrate to more distant nesting sites.
The turtles feed mainly on sponges, but
also take a variety of other invertebrate
prey and may take some algae, seagrass
and mangrove fruits or leaves. They
are identifiable by their characteris-
tically patterned carapace with four
pairs of costal scutes, a relatively
pointed head (hence the English name)
with two pairs of prefrontal scales.
They have a generally ‘spiky’
appearance, created by the overlapping (rather than adjoining) keratinous plates on the carapace
of most individuals and the distinctly serrate carapace margin. While the keratinous plates
covering the turtle shell are termed scutes, the thin flexible keratinous pieces covering the head,
limbs and other skin areas of the animal are termed scales. Hawksbill Turtles are relatively
small marine turtles: straight-line carapace lengths of mature females range from 53 to 114 cm
(rarely over 93 cm in Asian waters) and weights are between 35 and 77 kg (Pritchard and
Trebbau, 1984; Marquez, 1990; Das, 1991; Iverson, 1992; Chan and Liew, 1999; Lim and Das,
1999; Pilcher and Ali, 1999).
It is widely believed that the long-term survival of marine turtles is at risk (Anon., 2002b).
Sought after for its thick keratinous shell plates and eggs, and sometimes meat, the Hawksbill
Turtle has been endangered by unsustainable harvest levels and habitat degradation, which have
brought this widespread species to Critically Endangered status at a global level, according to
IUCN categories of threat (Anon., 2002b). Harvesting of Hawksbill Turtles for their shield-like
shell plates, or bekko, has occurred for centuries and Asian craftsmen have worked these into
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 2
Credit: © WWF-Canon/Cat Holloway
Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata
decorative and useful objects for as long. Both the shell plates and the objects crafted from them
are referred to as bekko in Japanese and this term has been adopted widely, including in conser-
vation circles. Only the Hawksbill Turtle has keratinous scutes thick enough to be worked into
bekko ornaments. Sometimes the scutes have been a by-product of hunting turtles for meat,
sometimes the target of the hunt,
in which cases the animal was
occasionally returned to the sea
after removing the scutes, in the
vain and false hope that it would
survive and re-grow its scutes.
In most cases, directed fisheries
for marine turtle meat have
preferred Green Turtles, but
Hawksbill Turtles are often
taken opportunistically
(although in many cultures they
are seen as unpalatable or even
International trade in marine turtles and their products, including Hawksbill Turtles and bekko,
has become increasingly restricted over the past 25 years or so, as national protection measures
have been introduced, as all marine turtles have been included in Appendix I of CITES, and as
more and more countries have joined CITES and reservations (legal objections) have been
withdrawn. No legal international trade in Hawksbill Turtles and bekko has occurred since
1994, when Japan withdrew its reservation to the CITES Appendix-I listing. Although the
Hawksbill Turtle remains categorized as Critically Endangered in the 2002 IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species, few would argue that the global ban on international trade has not been
beneficial to the species’s chances of survival - and some evidence suggests that some
populations have begun to recover, albeit slowly, since these global trade restrictions went into
effect (Anon., 2000a).
Bekko - history and recent trade in Asia
Historical trade of bekko to Asian markets was primarily to Japan, but also to the Republic of
Korea and Taiwan, Province of China (Groombridge and Luxmoore, 1989). Bekko processing
in Japan dates back to the Genroku Period (1688-1704 A.D.) in the Edo Era. Edo (Tokyo) was
the centre of bekko craftsmanship, producing mainly combs and hair ornaments. Their great
expense restricted their possession to the wealthy, mainly the wives of feudal lords and high-
class prostitutes (Anon., 2000c). During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), bekko artistry expanded to
produce cigarette cases and other boxes and miniature warship models, in addition to the
traditional combs and hair ornaments. One source claims that the marketing of these products
in Nagasaki and their exhibition overseas stimulated demand outside Japan and export trade in
bekko became significant (Anon., 2000c). Nowadays, Japanese bekko production is predomi-
nantly to meet domestic demand. Bekko combs remain an integral part of traditional Japanese
wedding dress.
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 3
Credit: Chris R. Shepherd/TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
Bangles made from Hawksbill Turtle scutes for
sale in a shop in Ho Chi Minh City,Viet Nam
The trade identifies different grades and types of bekko. The vertebral and costal scutes of the
carapace are termed kora, the marginal scutes are tsume and the plastron scutes are harako.
Bekko is graded depending on its colour and markings, ranging from shiroko, which is
unpatterned whitish-yellow, through jotoro ko (orange with slightly unclear marks) and chutoro
ko (blackish with slightly unclear marks), to barafu, which is distinctly marked (Anon., 2000c).
Shiroko is mostly harako and is the most expensive sort of bekko (Anon., 2000c and d).
A single average Hawksbill Turtle
in trade yields about 780 g of bekko
(Milliken and Tokunaga, 1987).
Raw Hawksbill Turtle scutes vary
in thickness between one and three
millimetres. To create objects
larger or thicker than the scutes
naturally allow, separate pieces of
scute can be joined together through
a process involving pressure, water
and heat, which leads to the
extrusion of a colloidal substance
which acts as a natural glue (Anon.,
Hawksbill Turtles occur only in
small numbers in Japan and nest in
very limited numbers in the Ryu Kyu Islands (Kikukawa et al., 1999). Areas formerly occupied
by Japan (for example, Taiwan) also support only minimal populations in their coastal waters.
Thus, Japan’s bekko industry has always depended on imports. Source regions have involved
all parts of the Hawksbill Turtle’s natural range, namely the Caribbean and Latin American
region, Asia, East Africa and Oceania. During the period 1970-1979, major exporting countries
to Japan were Panama, Indonesia and Cuba. Japan imported 38 700 kg of bekko, on average,
annually. From 1980 to 1989, Japan voluntarily limited its imports to 30 t annually (see Thereafter, the import quota for
raw bekko was reduced in successive years, until the zero quota for imports was introduced,
with effect from 1 January 1993 (Anon., 1994a, 2000c and 2000d). After 1980, until the ban on
bekko imports in January 1993, most Japanese imports were exported by Cuba, the Solomon
Islands and Jamaica (Anon., 2000d).
Following the moratorium on Japanese imports, the Japanese bekko crafting industry, formally
organized as the Japan Bekko Association, has survived by working material from the stockpile
that was imported into Japan before 1993. Members of the Japan Bekko Association conduct
auctions of raw shell plates once a month (Anon., 2000d).
Since the ban on bekko imports to Japan in 1993, a number of attempts to smuggle bekko into
Japan have been intercepted, ranging from a container shipment of about three tonnes of bekko,
from Indonesia in 1995, to relatively small shipments from Dominica and Singapore (see Table 1).
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 4
Credit: © WWF-Canon/Juan Pratginestos
Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 5
Date Weight Origin Point of import Method Persons
of bekko of of involved
(kg) shipment shipment
Jan. 1994 24 Dominica Narita Airport, Suitcases Two bekko
Tokyo traders from
Mar. 1994 587 Dominica Itami Airport, In boxes, a Japanese
Osaka claimed to trader
contain cow
horns and
Aug. 1995 3083.05 Indonesia Minami seaport, Concealed a Japanese
Osaka among coconut man
shells, in a
Mar. 1996 115.3 Singapore Narita Airport, Suitcases same Japanese
Tokyo trader as March
1994 case, using
a courier to
transport the
Aug. 1997 31.45 Singapore Kansai International Concealed in a a Japanese man
Airport, Osaka suitcase
April 1998 119.61 Singapore Narita Airport, Tokyo Carried in bags A bekko trader
from Nagasaki,
his son and
two to seven
(four arrested)
1998 9.72 Singapore Fukuoka Airport
Sept. 1998 65.71 Singapore Nagoya Airport Concealed in Japanese
suitcases importer and
four other
Japanese, who
had been asked
to carry the
bekko into
Japan. Five
Japanese were
Table 1
Summary of confiscated bekko shipments to Japan since the ban on imports of
bekko to Japan, effective 1 January 1993
Sources: Anon., 2000c and d.
Conservation status and threats to marine turtles in South-east Asia
In South-east Asia, as elsewhere, marine turtles suffer a variety of threats. The region is densely
populated by humans and has a long cultural history, sometimes involving marine turtle use,
with the result that impacts on marine turtle populations have probably been more extensive and
intensive in South-east Asia than anywhere else in the world. With human populations growing
rapidly and increased fisheries intensity, the threats to marine turtles are magnified. With
expanding Asian economies and increased wealth in many importing countries, the likely
increase in demand for bekko futher threatens the Hawksbill Turtles.
The 2002 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists all marine turtle species as globally
threatened and the conservation status of South-east Asian species is shown in Table 2.
In recent years, assessments of the status of marine turtles and the pressures on their populations
in South-east Asia have highlighted the hunting of adult turtles for meat; egg collection for
consumption; accidental capture in fishing nets (so-called 'by-catch'); degradation of nesting
and feeding habitats; the impacts of marine pollution; harvesting of Hawksbill Turtle scutes; and
disease as identifiable threats, roughly in descending order of importance (Salm, 1984; Anon.,
1989; Groombridge and Luxmoore, 1989; Meylan and Donnelly, 1999; Pilcher, 1999; Kemf et
al., 2000; Meylan and Ehrenfeld, 2000; Suganuma et al., 2000; Anon, n.d.). Harvesting of
Hawksbill Turtles is not counted as a prime threat to Asian marine turtles, in general, according
to recent review articles (for example, Kemf et al., 2000) and popular environmental awareness
publications (for example, Chantrapornsyl, 1996; Pilcher, 1999), and is reported as being of
lesser importance in this regard than the higher volumes of turtles taken in the Balinese turtle
meat trade (Davenport, 1988; Aw, 1999 and Anon., n.d., for example). This may be a reflection
of the fact that Hawksbill Turtles are less common and widespread than either Green Turtles or
Olive Ridleys, coupled with the fact that Hawksbill Turtle meat is generally considered less
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 6
Table 2
Global conservation status of marine turtle species occurring in South-east Asia,
as listed in the 2002 IUCN Red List
Species of turtle Conservation status
Caretta caretta Endangered A1abd
Chelonia mydas Endangered A1abd
Eretmochelys imbricata Critically Endangered A1abd+2bcd
Lepidochelys olivacea Endangered A1abd
Natator depressus Vulnerable A2cde
Dermochelys coriacea Critically Endangered A1abd
Source: Anon., 2002b.
tasty than that of the Green Turtle, and there is a perception in certain communities that it can
even be poisonous on occasion (perhaps related to season or the turtle’s diet). Regional trade
routes to Bali to supply the demand for marine turtle meat continue to expand. Local Balinese
marine turtle populations were depleted by the 1950s, and a map of trade routes dating from
1988 showed turtle supply
areas as far away as the
Indonesian provinces of
Maluku (formerly the
Moluccas); South and South
East Sulawesi; South and East
Kalimantan; Papua (the
former Irian Jaya); and the
south coast of East and
Central Java (Davenport,
1988). A more recent map
shows trade routes extending
as far as Waigeo (Papua
province), the Aru Islands
(Maluku province), north Kalimantan and West Java (Anon., n.d.). Fishermen from the Tukang
Besi islands off South East Sulawesi, where turtles were common a decade ago, now travel two
days to capture turtles in the Maluku islands (Curran, 2002).
It is not entirely clear whether the harvesting of shell plates for bekko is a by-product of direct
exploitation for consumption and/or fisheries by-catch of Hawksbill Turtles, or whether it is the
primary driving force for exploitation of the species. The relative importance of harvesting for
bekko versus exploitation for meat and eggs is likely to be very different at different locations
and is likely to have changed over time. Meylan and Ehrenfeld (2000) specifically stated that
“Tortoiseshell trade is considered to be the foremost cause of the Hawksbill’s critical
endangerment”, citing the calculations by Milliken and Tokunaga (1987) that more than
600 000 Hawksbill Turtles were required to produce the volume of tortoiseshell imported by
Japan from 1970 to 1986. Since the Japanese ban on bekko imports, effective 1 January 1993,
it would appear that targeted exploitation of Hawksbill Turtles for bekko would certainly have
declined, although perhaps not ceased.
In Indonesia, Suganuma et al. (1999, 2000) blamed the decline of Hawksbill Turtle populations
on exports of bekko and stuffed turtles to Japan before 1992 (although Japan has prohibited the
importation of stuffed marine turtles since 1989); increased human population and development
of the islands in the Java Sea; and increased collection of marine turtle eggs, as a result of both
increased human population and the increasing economic value of the eggs. Hawksbill Turtle
populations in the Java Sea region of Indonesia have declined sharply in recent years: of 30
known nesting beaches, 17 were surveyed recently, and nesting activity in these places was
calculated to have declined by 72%. Nests at individual sites were found to have declined by
between 50 and 88% and extinction of some rookeries was thought to be imminent (Suganuma
et al., 1999 and 2000).
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 7
Credit: © WWF-Canon/Ronald Petocz
Hawksbill Turtle (left) and Green Turtle with local
fishermen on the coast of Papua, Indonesia
In Viet Nam, Hawksbill Turtles are rated ‘Endangered’ in the 1992 Viet Nam Red Data Book
(Anon., 1992) and were reported by Nguyen (1999) to be impacted by egg collection,
destruction of nesting areas, and over-harvesting. The bekko trade in Viet Nam has been
described by Bourret (1941), Anon. (1994b) and Nguyen (1999), among others. Hawksbill
Turtles were reported by Nguyen (1999) to be nesting on five of 18 marine turtle nesting
beaches in the Con Dao archipelago, but the species’s sensitivity to human interference made
population estimates and trend information almost impossible to acquire.
Regulation relevant to the protection of marine turtles in South-east
International conventions
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
All marine turtles, as families Cheloniidae and Dermochelyidae, are included in Appendix I of
CITES, prohibiting all forms of commercial trade in the animals and their parts and derivatives
to or from Parties to CITES. (As of November 2003, Cuba, the Grenadines and St.Vincent held
reservations for the Hawksbill Turtle. Cuba also held a reservation for the Green Turtle
Chelonia mydas, while Suriname held reservations for the Leatherback Dermochelys coriacea
and the Green Turtle (reservation not applicable to the Australian population) (CITES
Notification 2002/034; see
All nations in South-east Asia with marine turtle populations are Parties to CITES, except Timor
Leste (East Timor). Indonesia’s membership of CITES came into force in March 1979, but the
country maintained reservations on trade in Hawksbill Turtles and bekko initially. Viet Nam
became a CITES Party in 1994.
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) (also known as
the Bonn Convention)
Marine turtles follow a migratory life history in most, if not all, populations. Turtles therefore
travel between national territorial waters and, as such, fall under the purview of the Bonn
Convention. In July 2000, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Conservation and
Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-east Asia was
drafted at a meeting in Kuantan, Malaysia, attended by 24 States. The objective of this MoU is
“to protect, conserve, replenish and recover marine turtles and their habitats, based on the best
scientific evidence, taking into account the environmental, socio-economic and cultural charac-
teristics of the signatory States”. The MoU refers to a number of multilateral and bilateral
conventions, MoUs and programmes relevant to the conservation of marine turtles in the Indo-
Pacific region. Progress in implementation of the MoU and the actions proposed therein was
reviewed at the First Meeting of the Signatory States to the MoU in Bangkok, Thailand, which
was held during 22-24 January 2003. Indonesia and Viet Nam have not yet acceded to this
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 8
National legislation in Indonesia and Viet Nam
Before 1999, Indonesian legislation fully
protected the Leatherback, Loggerhead
Caretta caretta, Hawksbill Turtle, Olive
Ridley Lepidochelys olivacea and Flatback
Natator depressus from exploitation, but
permitted an annual quota of 5000 Green
Turtles to be harvested in Bali for religious
feasts and ceremonies (Soehartono, 1995). All
marine turtles were given national protection
status under Government Regulation Act No. 7
and 8of 1999, which is in application of Law
No.5/1990, concerning the conservation of
biological natural resources and their
ecosystems and incorporates Decrees
327/1978 and 716/1980 of the Ministry of
Agriculture. This legislation outlaws all
domestic and international trade in marine
turtles and marine turtle products in Indonesia.
Viet Nam
The five species of marine turtle reported from Vietnamese waters were not initially listed in
Decree 18/HDBT, but the revision of this decree, issued as Decree 48/CP on 22 April 2002, has
included the turtles within its scope. Species included in group I of Decree 48/CP, which
include the Hawksbill Turtle, are excluded from use and exploitation when taken from the wild;
special non-commercial use and exploitation must be proposed by the Minister of Agriculture
and Rural Development and approved by the Prime Minister on a case-by-case basis. Thus,
domestic trade in Hawksbill Turtles and bekko was legal until 22 April 2002, but has become
illegal since. Exports of Hawksbill Turtles and bekko have been illegal since 1994, when Viet
Nam became a CITES Party.
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 9
Credit: © WWF-Canon/Jürgen Freund
Balinese turtle traders
Survey methods
In Indonesia, locations known to have exported bekko in the past were visited and the
investigator, posing as a “friend of an interested buyer in Japan”, questioned the dealers about
the availability of bekko, quantities, other dealers in the business, etc. Owing to political unrest
at the time, it was impossible to survey historical trade locations in Java, but other locations
thought to be potential sources of information were also visited, including ports, fish markets,
souvenir and jewellery shops, cargo export companies, handicraft wholesale exporters and a
Hawksbill Turtle holding location. Individuals involved in conservation in Indonesia were also
interviewed. Surveys were conducted in September and October 2001, in Medan (North
Sumatra), Bali, and Ujung Pandang (South Sulawesi). The currency conversion rate for the
Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) to the US dollar (USD) at the time of the survey was IDR9800 to
In Viet Nam, surveying was carried out from 13 to 20 February 2002, in Ho Chi Minh City and
Ha Tien and its vicinity, to assess current trade in Hawksbill Turtle parts in southern Viet Nam.
Traders and shops in both locations were surveyed by a researcher posing as a buyer interested
in taking Hawksbill Turtle products out of the country, possibly in large quantities. Wholesale
and retail prices were noted. Prices were given either in Vietnamese dong (VND) or US dollars
(USD), depending on the trader. The currency conversion rate at the time of the survey was
VND15 000 to USD1.
Previous surveys of bekko products in Indonesia and Viet Nam were consulted in order to
compare trade levels at the time of those surveys with trade levels in 2001/2002. Sources
consulted for Indonesia were Groombridge and Luxmoore, 1989; Anon., 1989; Salm, 1984 and
Schultz, 1987 and for Viet Nam, Anon., 1994b.
Preceding the actual surveys, a few items, ranging from cheap pieces of poor workmanship to
mid-range ornamental pieces, were tested to determine whether the item was genuine bekko or
plastic imitation. Testing involved careful examination under magnification for workmanship
irregularities and injection moulding lines, as well as holding a flame near the item (plastic
melts, bekko sputters with a strong smell of burning hair or hooves). All pieces tested for
authenticity proved to be genuine bekko.
Survey findings
Medan, North Sumatra
Medan has not previously been reported as a centre in the bekko trade. Seven souvenir shops
were surveyed in September 2001: two of these were found to have small amounts of bekko
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 10
products on offer. The first shop
had only three old fans, each
priced at IDR150 000. The
trader said that he would like to
sell these as soon as possible, as
he knew it was illegal to have
them and that he would not be
getting any new stock in, as it
was now too expensive.
According to him, new fans cost
IDR750 000. The dealer stated
that the increase in price was the
result of a ban on the sale of
marine turtle products. The fans
were said to have been made in
Nias, an island off the west coast of Sumatra. The second shop had more stock, including 14
brooches, 10 hair ornaments, six ornamental boxes and two combs, ranging in price from
IDR150 000 to IDR400 000. All the products were said to have been made in Medan by a local
craftsman, but the raw product came from Nias. The scale of the trade on the island of Nias was
WWF-Indonesia’s Bali office, based in Denpasar, has carried out extensive campaigns
regarding the conservation of marine turtles. Over the past few years, staff there have
developed a very strong working relationship with the police and together they have been very
successful in ‘cleaning up’ the marine turtle product trade in Denpasar. Police have acted on all
information regarding illegal trade provided to them by WWF and have carried out very
extensive sweeps of dealers, markets etc., and confiscated all marine turtle products. WWF and
the police meet on a weekly basis to stay on top of the situation.
During surveys in Denpasar, as well as in the nearby tourist centre of Kuta, the results of the
sweeps were obvious. Of approximately 20 tourist shops surveyed, only one was found to have
a small amount of items made from bekko. All dealers in the shops, when asked if any products
made from marine turtle were available, stated that they did not carry such items anymore, as it
was illegal and marine turtles were protected. Even the shop that did have some items (approx-
imately 25 rings) stated that these were from old stock and that once they were sold they would
not be replaced.
In Denpasar Selatan, Dana’s Production: Souvenirs and Handicrafts was visited. On being
asked if any bekko was available, a member of the shop staff produced a large box from behind
the counter, containing numerous bekko products. According to the dealer, the raw carapaces
were purchased in Java (exact location unspecified) and taken to the city of Yogyakarta, Java,
where craftsmen worked them into various items, many decorated with silver. They were then
brought to Bali for sale. It was suggested that the origin of the turtles was sometimes
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 11
Credit: Chris R. Shepherd/TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
Bekko combs and other items on sale in a souvenir
shop, photographed during surveys in 2002
Indonesia’s Papua province (formerly Irian Jaya), but also Java. When asked if any bekko was
exported, the dealer replied that most was exported, but gave only a single example, that of a
buyer from New York, USA, who purchased a large quantity of bekko products about once a
year for resale in the USA. Items observed at this location are listed in Table 3.
A certain amount of bekko trade continued in other parts of Bali, including Sernagan Island.
One place visited in Sernagan had a large cement tank with 40 Hawksbill Turtles swimming
around in it. Tourists paid to feed the turtles bits of seaweed and a variety of trinkets made of
seashells were offered for sale at the site. No products made of bekko were seen for sale. When
the sellers were asked if they sold any bekko products, they said they did not, because it was
illegal. One dead turtle was observed floating in the tank. When asked what happened to dead
animals, the sellers refused to answer. According to them, this holding tank was set up to
protect turtles, which were brought in by fishermen and, sometimes, released back to the wild.
They stated that fishermen brought in approximately 15 new animals each year but declined to
say how many were released. Also on Sernagan, many Green Turtles and some Hawksbill
Turtles were said to be landed regularly at a large port, which could serve as a source for raw
Hawksbill Turtle carapaces.
WWF-Indonesia staff in Bali claimed that turtle exploitation, in general, remained problematic
in some areas of the island. Notably, this appeared to be related to the local consumption of
Green Turtle meat for religious and cultural reasons. This had apparently slowed considerably
in Denpasar and Kuta, owing to police efforts, but to what extent it continued was not
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 12
Table 3
Bekko products observed and prices at Dana’s Production, Bali, 2 October 2001
Item Quantity* Price (IDR) Price (USD
Large boxes (approx. 25cm x 15cm x 10cm) 7 350 000 each 35.70
Medium boxes (approx. 20cm x 10cm x 8cm) 7 200 000 each 20.40
Small round box sets
(three boxes about eight centimetres in diameter) 30 100 000/set 10.20
Small box sets without silver 10 75 000/set 7.65
Sarong buckles 30 30 000 each 3.06
Hair pieces with silver 30 25 000 each 2.55
Hair pieces without silver 30 20 000 each 2.04
Lighter with silver 20 40 000 each 4.08
Lighter without silver 10 25 000 each 2.55
Note: * Quantities are estimates
Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi
In the reports on Hawksbill Turtle trade in Sulawesi in the 1980s (Salm, 1984; Schultz, 1987;
Anon., 1989), 14 trading companies were listed as holding bekko stocks. Visits and investi-
gations made regarding these companies as part of survey work in 2001 found that most were
no longer in business (see Table 4). In conversations with people connected with various of
these businesses (see Table 4), it was learned that the large companies involved in bekko export
to Japan had stopped when the trade had been banned and they could no longer get permits.
Most of these companies had then sold off the remainder of their stock and stopped buying
bekko completely. A representative of one business, Mutiara Mas, however, stated that the
company still had 200kg in stock and was waiting for the trade to reopen. The owner stated that
he had applied for an export permit for one tonne of bekko to Japan, but had, to date, been
refused by the government. He also stated that his stock had been much larger in the past, but
that the majority of it had been stolen during the riots of 1997.
Most of the ex-dealers spoken to claimed that the international trade continued. It appeared that
the trade in bekko was carried out underground, by individuals or small groups, rather than by
the large companies that had been involved a decade or so earlier. Many of those involved in
the trade in 2001, according to one ex-dealer who still watched the trade, were crew members
on fishing boats, who earned extra income from the sale of both marine turtles and shark fins,
as these were not the target species of these ships. This was also stated by another ex-trader at
P.T. Bonecom, a business that dealt in shrimp and tuna in 2001 (see Table 4), but caught
Hawksbill Turtles, when possible, for the crew to sell “on the side”. It was difficult to determine
the size of the trade carried out by these individuals: it was likely to have been smaller than in
previous years, according to many interviewees, who were of the opinion that Hawksbill Turtles
were becoming very scarce.
It was perceived that the Indonesian Government was not interested in re-opening the trade in
Hawksbill Turtle shells, except perhaps to sell remnant stockpiles. The involvement of the
Japanese Bekko Association (JBA) in ranching and management of Hawksbill Turtles in
Indonesia, developed in the 1980s prior to the CITES ban on international trade in marine
turtles, had declined. However, the JBA allegedly wished to purchase all stockpiles from Ujung
Pandang, Sulawesi; and elements within the Indonesian Government were allegedly interested
in selling this stock. The JBA was thought to have been establishing Hawksbill Turtle ranching
projects in Indonesia and, after an unsuccessful attempt to set up in Bali, was thought to be
supporting one such operation on Pulau Seribu, an island off Java. The alleged ranching
operation was fairly low-key in 2001and was operating as a 'conservation project'. The current
status of these alleged ranching operations is unknown and it is likely that they are no longer
active. It was suspected, however, by some conservation organizations in Indonesia, that such
ranching operations may act as a front for exporting current stockpiles of shell (Ketut Sarjana
Putra, WWF-Indonesia Marine Programme, in litt. to TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, 2003). It is
possible that the information on which this view was based was outdated.
An academic in the Fisheries Department of the University in Bogor, Java, was said to have
been contacted in 2000 by the army, which requested assistance in arranging the export of
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 13
“many tonnes” of shells (Ketut Sarjana Putra, WWF-Indonesia Marine Programme, pers. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia staff, 2001). The stock that they had allegedly been trying
to export was thought to have been stored in Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi. It was also stated by
WWF-Indonesia staff that there may have been some trade of Hawksbill Turtle shell directly
from Papua province, but it is more likely that the shells here were being trans-shipped within
Indonesia, to Ujung Pandang for illegal export or stockpiling.
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 14
Table 4
Status in October 2001 of 14 businesses known to have traded bekko actively
during the 1980s, in Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi
Notes: +: Additional stock available; * Information acquired from second party as target interviewee unreachable
Name of businesses Status in 1984 Status in 1986 Status in 1988 Status in 2001
(Salm, 1984) (PHPA (Anon., 1989) (TRAFFIC)
inventory -
Schultz, 1987)
P.T. Bonecom Moderately active Not listed Not active, no stock Not active, no stock.
Now a shrimp and tuna
company. Hawksbill
Turtles caught are sold
privately by crew, as
are sharks
C.V. Dwi Karya Baru No recent activity 2300 kg 4400 kg in stock Unknown
Firma Lumbung No recent activity Not listed Not active, no stock Has moved to Jakarta -
status unknown
C.V. Handel Mij Negara Moderately active Not listed Not active, no stock Unknown
Fa. Mudjur Abadi No recent activity 1500 kg 1500+ kg in stock Unknown
Fa. Mutiara Mas Not listed 1500 kg 1200+ kg in stock 200 kg in stock.
Waiting for trade
to re-open. Much stock
stolen in 1997 riots.
Fa. Ng Jihiu Seng Not listed Not listed 2060 kg in stock *Compiler, not exporter.
Business is closed until
trade reopens.
C.V. Rejeki Jaya Moderately active Not listed 100 kg in stock Has sold all stock.
Will open again if trade
C.V. Sanida Very active 500 kg 80 kg in stock Owner has died.
Business closed.
C.V. Sentosa Very active Not listed Not active, no stock *Not active
Fa. Sumbur Mujur No recent activity 1900 kg 240 kg in stock Unknown *possibly
underground or moved
Serjaya Makassar Moderately active 400 kg Company not located *Not active.
C.V. Sumber Laut 530 kg 500-1000 kg 530 kg in stock *Not active.
C.V. Sumber Nusantara Not listed 1500 kg 2000 kg in stock Unknown - shop
closed during survey
Viet Nam
It may be worth repeating here that trading bekko within Viet Nam was still legal at the time of
this survey, and only became an offence when Decree 48/CP of 22 April 2002 came into force.
Ha Tien, Kien Giang province
Ha Tien, located in Kien Giang province along the extreme south-western coast of Viet Nam, is
a town of approximately 40 000 people. It is located on a large river and is approximately a 20-
minute drive from the Cambodian border. In February 2002, Ha Tien was generally regarded
by traders as the source of many of the Hawksbill Turtle products in trade in Viet Nam. It was
also widely known for its Hawksbill Turtle products and therefore they were the preferred
souvenir from this town for local tourists.
At the time of the survey in 2002, 10 families were reported actively to be manufacturing
Hawksbill Turtle products and there were three main dealers said to be operating in Ha Tien.
Two of these were located in the centre of town, while the third was at a nearby recreational
beach. All three traders were visited and interviewed. Bekko quantities observed and prices
(stated in Vietnamese dong, converted to US dollars) are shown in Table 5.
The Phan Van Than company was considered the largest producer/supplier of Hawksbill Turtle
products in Ha Tien. The business had been run by the same family for more than 50 years and
carving was done mostly by members of the family, with hired workers sometimes sharing the
work. The work was done in the rear part of the building, behind the showroom. According to
the owners, they received and processed approximately 300-450 whole turtles a year and an
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 15
Table 5
Bekko availability and prices at three wholesalers in Ha Tien, February 2002
Bekko item No. of traders Total quantity Price range
(USD, approx.)
Bracelet 3 939 1.67-16.67
Hair clips, bands and pins 3 663 1.20-5.00
Finger ring 2 425 not stated
Comb 3 143 2.33-13.33
Key chain 2 97 1.20-1.33
Earrings (per pair) 3 32 3.00-10.00
Spectacle frame 2 20 12.00-34.67
Hand fan 3 12 23.33-30.00
Cigarette holder 2 8 4.00
Necklace 1 8 3.00-5.00
Ornamental box 1 5 25.33
Cigarette box 1 3 20.00
Lighter holder 1 2 not stated
Total 2357
Whole stuffed turtle 3 90 30.67-200.00
unspecified amount of large scutes. The turtles were purchased from fishermen and, although
the dealers did not know how many fishermen were involved in the catching of turtles, they did
state that there were many. The meat was said to be eaten, presumably by the fishermen. The
majority of the products produced
by this family business was sold to
Vietnamese tourists and to retailers
from Ho Chi Minh City. Local
tourists came daily to buy products
from the shop (in quantities
unspecified), especially during the
New Year festive season.
Hawksbill Turtle product dealers
from Ho Chi Minh City also
frequented this shop regularly,
buying “large” quantities to take
back to Ho Chi Minh City for
resale. Very few foreign tourists
were said to buy products from this shop, although one regular buyer from Hong Kong was said
to come approximately every three months to buy everything in stock. The buyer then allegedly
took the bekko items back to Hong Kong where they were to be resold. According to the traders
interviewed in early 2002, this individual’s most recent visit had been in December, 2001.
A second trading company, Than Chi, had two locations in Ha Tien: the owner’s home, where
the manufacturing was done, and a retail outlet a short distance away. This family-run company
had been producing Hawksbill Turtle products for the past 20 years and, in 2002, employed
three people as manufacturers. Turtles and scutes were purchased from an unknown number of
local fishermen, who reportedly processed approximately 150 turtles each year. The majority
of the products were said to be sold to Vietnamese tourists and to retailers from Ho Chi Minh
City, but a small amount was sold to foreigners, most of whom were reported to come from
Japan and China.
My Nghe Doi Moi is a business in Ha Tien which had been producing Hawksbill Turtle products
for close to 50 years, when visited. The owner worked on products at the back of his home in Ha
Tien and was willing to share his knowledge of the craft and trade with the researcher (see Box 1).
Mui Nai Beach, near Ha Tien
Mui Nai Beach is located a few kilometres outside Ha Tien town. It is a popular recreational
destination mostly for Vietnamese tourists, although a few non-Vietnamese visit as well. There
were three outlets observed selling wildlife products during the visit in 2002, but two of them
were very small, having fewer than 100 Hawksbill Turtle articles each, mostly hairclips and
bracelets. No stuffed turtles were observed at either of these two small outlets. The bekko stock
observed at the third outlet, a much larger shop, is itemized in Table 6. The owners of this shop
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 16
Credit: Chris R. Shcpherd/TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
A live marine turtle in Viet Nam, at the home
of a middleman, visited in 2002
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 17
Box 1
An interview with a bekko craftsman in Ha Tien,Viet Nam, February 2002
This interview with the owner of the My Nghe Doi Moi business in Ha Tien was conducted
by Chris R. Shepherd, using the services of a local interpreter. The owner of the business
had been involved with trade in Hawksbill Turtle products in Viet Nam for decades and old
black-and-white photos of the owner and his colleagues manufacturing Hawksbill Turtle
products were shown to the interviewer. The owner stated that the government had
outlawed the catching of Hawksbill Turtles and that police sometimes confiscated large
turtles from dealers and fishermen, even though it actually only became an offence to catch
Hawksbill Turtles when Decree 48/CP of 22 April 2002 came into force, two months after this
interview took place. The opinions expressed below are those of the interviewee.
Numbers of Hawksbill Turtles are declining very sharply, and this has been especially true over the
past five years. Up until about 1980, there were many Hawksbill Turtles in the ocean near Ha Tien
and Phu Quoc Island. At that time, there were six people working full-time in my shop and as many
as 400 large Hawksbill Turtles were purchased and processed each year. Only the largest turtles
were purchased from fishermen, never small ones. After that, populations began to decline. Five
years ago, I was forced to lay off all my employees and now I work alone. For the past 10 years or
so I have been buying turtles of all sizes, as I have little choice - there are no big turtles left in the
area. Hawksbill Turtles nest three times a year in this region of southern Viet Nam: in February,
October and December. They are disappearing because there are too many fishermen catching
them now. Also, the eggs are collected by locals and eaten or sold and the meat of marine turtles -
Green Turtles, as well as Hawksbills and any other species caught - is also eaten, by fishermen or
bekko producers, or sold at market, where it is regularly available. Green Turtle meat sells for VND35
000 per kg (approx. USD2.33) and restaurants in this area often have marine turtle meat on the
menu - it is best served curried. Sometimes, turtles are sold stuffed [A stuffed Green Turtle, Chelonia
mydas, was observed in the craftsman's home.] People usually buy stuffed turtles in pairs, to
represent a boy and a girl - a well rounded, happy family - as this is said to bring better fortune to
a family.
Hawksbill Turtles nowadays are purchased from fishermen who are paid by the size of the animal.
I still buy up to 300 turtles a year, but many of these are very small and are sold stuffed, rather than
made into bekko products. Whole animals are measured across the carapace at its widest point,
with the measuring tape following the contour of the shell. The width is written on the bottom of
the plastron for future reference. The buyer pays per centimetre. The current price is VND7000 per
cm (approximately USD0.47 per cm), or VND70 000 per 10 cm, as it is usually calculated.
Sometimes buyers purchase scutes already removed from the animal. The scutes sell by the
kilogramme and the current price paid to fishermen is VND2 000 000 per kg (approximately
USD133.33 per kg). Light-coloured scutes are the most desired, but all are purchased, as all can be
In 1993, when the turtle population was starting to decline drastically, business was further hurt by
the ban on all exports of Hawksbill Turtle products from Viet Nam. Prior to this, I had regular
used to manufacture their own Hawksbill Turtle products, but now act as retailers only,
purchasing their turtle products from producers in Ha Tien.
Previously there was a turtle ranch at Mui Nai, according to sources at Mui Nai and Ha Tien.
Young turtles were captured from Phu Quoc island and brought to this ranch for rearing. The
animals were used to produce bekko products and the meat was eaten. The last of the turtles is
thought to have died in 2000. Sources claimed the turtles died as a result of polluted, turbid
water. There were apparently no more such operations in the area.
Chua Hang Pagoda, near Ha Tien
The Chua Hang Pagoda is situated in a cave on the coast, about one hour out of Ha Tien. It is
a very popular destination for tourists, especially Vietnamese, but bus tours for foreign tourists
also visit this pagoda. There are two entrances to the pagoda, both of which are surrounded by
souvenir shops, fresh sea food vendors and restaurants. The majority of the souvenir shops
offered Hawksbill Turtle products, all of which were said to have been purchased from Ha Tien
wholesalers. A few of the shops were under the same ownership. All business cards acquired
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 18
importers from South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, China and France and quantities exported to these
places were very large. Today,I do not export but still have some buyers from Hong Kong and South
Korea, although they do not purchase such large quantities as they did prior to the ban, owing to
difficulties in transporting the products undetected and also to the shortage of products. While it
does not seem to be a problem shipping the products out of Viet Nam, it is difficult to import them
into other countries. Buyers from Japan purchase a lot of Hawksbill Turtle products, but buy them
only from retailers in Ho Chi Minh City. I do not know why they do this, but this amuses me, as the
prices there are much higher than mine. Most of my products now are purchased by retailers in
Ho Chi Minh City, as well as by a few traders in Ha Tien, including the Phan Van Than company. One
particular dealer in Ho Chi Minh City buys all my products about once every two or three months,
at which time I close the shop and take everything into Ho Chi Minh City. I tell buyers, though, that
it is much better to buy directly from me, as the retailers in Ho Chi Minh City mark up the prices
considerably. For example, a fan that I sell for VND350 000 in Ha Tien will sell for VND500 000
in Ho Chi Minh City.
Most of the craftsmen working in the area learned their trade under my guidance and supervision.
For someone to become a craftsman, it takes a minimum of three years of training under an expert.
The thinner the scute, the faster the pieces can be made into a product. It takes one man three
days to make five thick combs. It takes only one day for a man to make a hand fan, as the fans
are made out of thinner pieces. Hurrying to finish a product is not good, as a hurried piece has no
beauty - time, patience and skill are required to produce beautiful pieces. Tools of the trade include
a press to flatten the scutes, pliers and a vice to hold and bend the pieces, files, a fine-toothed saw
and small blades - no powered equipment is used. A skilled worker, such as myself, may make a
gross salary of approximately VND3 000 000 per month (approximately USD200 per month). The
10 families engaged in the Hawksbill Turtle craft in Ha Tien are mostly small-scale operations. For
special orders, customers must place the order a month in advance.
from these shops had pictures of turtles on them, indicating that turtle products were the
‘speciality’ of the area; traders confirmed this by stating that the region was famous for these
and that therefore they were a very common item for visitors to buy. Prices were stated in
Vietnamese dong, implying that most trade was aimed at domestic tourists. Twelve shops and
stalls offered Hawksbill Turtle shell products and the numbers and prices of these are shown in
Table 6.
Ho Chi Minh City
Forty-three shops were visited in Ho Chi Minh City, encompassing the range from tourist
souvenir shops, art and craft shops, opticians and jewellers, to specialized bekko traders. Of
these shops, 21 offered bekko artefacts or stuffed turtles for sale. By far the most numerous
bekko articles for sale were bracelets, which represented more than half of all bekko items
observed. There were also over 1500 other bekko objects for personal ornamentation, such as
hairclips, hairbands, hairpins, finger rings, earrings, necklaces, brooches and pendants, and
about 250 bekko spectacle frames were seen on sale in total, in 12 shops. These are a traditional
bekko item and were among the most expensive items on offer. Other expensive items included
folding hand fans, boxes for cigarettes and other small items, purses, picture and mirror frames,
miniatures and walking sticks. Quantities offered for sale and stated prices are shown in Table 7.
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 19
Table 6
Bekko availability and prices at tourist stalls at Mui Nai Beach and Chua Hang
Pagoda, February 2002
Bekko item Mui Nai Beach Chua Hang Pagoda
- 12 souvenir shops
quantity price range no. of quantity price
(USD of shops range
approx.) (USD
Bracelet 410 2.33-3.33 7 737 1.47-5.33
Hair clips, band and pins 295 2.00-3.00 8 603 1.47-23.33
Comb 15 3.33-6.67 8 575 1.53-4.33
Key chain 0 - 4 48 1.33-1.67
Finger ring 35 not stated 2 47 1.20
Cigarette holder 11 2.33-4.33 1 12 not stated
Hand fan 2 not stated 2 5 23.33-46.67
Spectacle frame 0 - 3 9 14.67-18.67
Necklace 0 - 1 2 not stated
Lighter case 3 3.00 0 0 -
Miscellaneous 100-180 - 3 about 450 not stated
Total about 900 12 about 2500
Stuffed whole turtle 4 not stated 4 42 36.67-50.00
Sea turtle carapace, not stated 0 0 -
skull or other parts
Predictably, there was much variation in the prices asked for a particular type of item, as the
items themselves were quite variable in the quality of the bekko used for manufacture and in the
level of craftsmanship. Retail prices were somewhat higher than wholesale prices, although
most retail prices were comparable to wholesale prices; the wide range in retail prices is mainly
a result of the high prices at two particularly expensive retail shops. Two vendors each offered
10-30% discounts on retail prices for bulk purchases.
There was found to be a correlation between the selling of bekko products and some other
wildlife products - most shops with bekko in stock also sold ivory items, for example, and five
were found to have Tiger or bear teeth or claws for sale, too. Despite being used for the
manufacture of luxury items, neither bekko nor ivory were traded outside the wildlife and tourist
craft sectors, being absent from the jewellery, optician and department store trades. There was
little correlation between the selling of bekko and various other categories of wildlife items,
however, including carved bone products, deer antlers, mounted butterflies or snake wine: many
of the shops offering these products did not stock bekko.
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 20
Table 7
Bekko items observed for sale during a survey of 43 shops in Ho Chi Minh City,Viet
Nam, February 2002
Bekko item no of total Wholesale Retail
shops quantity price range price range
Bracelet 18 3092 1.50-8.00 2.00-38.00
Hair clips, bands and pins 15 550 1.50-5.00 1.00-30.00
Finger ring 4 443 1.50-2.00 2.00-43.00
Necklace 9 261 5.00-6.00 4.00-320.00
Spectacle frame 13 284 15.00-35.00 20.00-800.00
Earrings (per pair) 9 225 1.00-2.00 1.50-15.00
Comb 7 147 2.50-3.00 4.00-47.00
Cigarette holder/ filter 7 116 2.00 5.00-12.00
Brooches and pendants 3 103 1.00-2.00 2.00-22.00
Name seal 7 102 3.00-4.00 3.00-9.00
Ornamental box 7 74 - 25.00-70.00
Hand fan 8 59 20.00-25.00 14.00-98.00
Lighter holder 7 39 5.00 5.00-9.00
Guitar plectrum 1 36 - 2.00-4.00
Pipe 2 33 - 6.00
Cigarette box 6 31 18.00 42.00-62.00
Letter opener 2 25 - 3.00-35.00
Purse 3 22 65.00 180.00-250.00
Key chain 2 22 - 18.00
Mirror/picture frame 3 5 - 120.00-220.00
Model house / birdcage 1 5 - 75.00
Walking stick 1 1 - 370.00
Whole stuffed turtle 4 24 35.00 25.00-120.00
Total - Ho Chi Minh City 21 5699 1.00-65.00 1.00-800.00
General trade levels
Overall, trade quantities observed in Viet Nam during the survey in 2002 greatly exceeded the
quantities observed during a similar survey in late 1993 (Anon., 1994b). Prices during the 2002
survey were comparable in US dollar terms (Anon., 1994b), indicating that prices had actually
declined in the intervening eight years when corrected for inflation. The widespread availability
of bekko products openly on sale in February 2002 is not surprising, given that the Hawksbill
Turtles were not legally protected by Vietnamese legislation at the time. The higher trade
volume relative to 1993 may be a reflection of Viet Nam’s economic liberalization over the past
10 years and the lower prices an indication of increased competition. However, these trends
were inconsistent with widespread claims of a declining supply of Hawksbill Turtles.
In Indonesia, efforts by authorities and NGOs to curb wholesale exports and retail offers of
Hawksbill Turtle products seem to have achieved significant success. While there remain
problematic areas, it appears that total trade levels in 2001 were significantly lower than they
were a decade before that.
Origin of Hawksbill Turtle products and the trade chain in Viet Nam
All traders interviewed in Viet Nam during survey work in 2002 were convinced that the
harvesting of Hawksbill Turtles and the processing of their shells were domestic industries. All
Hawksbill Turtles were claimed to have been obtained from fishermen in Vietnamese waters,
which equate to a large area when taking into account Viet Nam’s claim to the Paracel and
Spratley Islands. It is possible that some Hawksbill Turtles were captured as fisheries by-catch
outside Vietnamese waters. While interviews conducted for this report indicated that there was
no importing of whole turtles, shells or scutes from other countries, results from a more recent
survey of marine turtle products in Viet Nam, carried out in May 2002, suggest that some
quantity of Hawksbill Turtle shells is imported (Anon., in prep.). Such imports into Viet Nam
were reported to have come mainly
from Indonesia, by means of
Vietnamese fishermen, who had bought
Hawksbill Turtle scutes from
Indonesian fishermen on the high seas.
There was no doubt that crafting
Hawksbill Turtle scutes into bekko
objects continued in southern Viet Nam
in February 2002 and much of the craft
work was carried out in the town of Ha
Tien. Altogether, the three traders in Ha
Tien claimed to have acquired and
processed from 750 to 900 Hawksbill
Turtles annually, for the purpose of
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 21
Credit: Chris R. Shepherd/TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
Partially finished Hawksbill Turtle shell
jewellery at the home of a craftsman in
Viet Nam, visited in 2002
fashioning the scutes into bekko products and/or the stuffing of whole specimens. Several
traders noted that the number of Hawksbill Turtles captured and the average size of the animals
had declined, a decline reported to have first been noted in around 1980. Vendors at Mui Nai
Beach and the Chua Hang Pagoda all acquired their supplies from Ha Tien-based traders, while
vendors in Ho Chi Minh City stated that their bekko products were crafted in either Ha Tien or
Ho Chi Minh City. Two shops in Ho Chi Minh City claimed to employ their own craftsman to
work bekko, while other shops acquired their items ready-made from wholesalers in Ha Tien or
Ho Chi Minh City.
Traders in the shops at Mui Nai Beach and the Chua Hang Pagoda stated that the vast majority
of their items were sold to Vietnamese tourists. Reflecting this, prices were displayed in the
local currency. This was in contrast to the situation in Ho Chi Minh City (see International
trade in South-east Asia below).
Origin of Hawksbill Turtle products and the trade chain in Indonesia
Hawksbill Turtles appeared to be captured in Indonesian waters as a by-product of Green Turtle
hunting or general fisheries activities. Hawksbill Turtles so captured may be absorbed into the
established Green Turtle meat trade, for which Bali is the centre, or their scutes may be removed
and processed into bekko items locally, while the rest of the animal is used for consumption, or
discarded. There are indications of Hawksbill Turtle fishing within Indonesia from Maluku
(Curran, 2002), Nias (this study), Papua (this study), and presumably this occurs wherever the
species’s distribution overlaps with Indonesian fisheries activities. This may include parts of
the economic zones or territorial waters of other countries. With these regional trade routes for
live marine turtles well established because of the demand for turtle meat in Bali, Hawksbill
Turtles are likely to continue to be captured over a wide area. However, these harvesting
activities are likely to be constrained by the inherent costs of capture effort, transport from
capture grounds to trade and consumption centres, and the cost of trying to avoid enforcement
Processing of Hawksbill Turtle scutes into bekko items was found to be taking place in a number
of Indonesian localities, ranging from cottage industries in the Tukang Besi Islands, South East
Sulawesi (Curran, 2002) to traditional processing centres in Yogyakarta, Java. Most of the trade
in shells, raw scutes and processed items appeared to be operating underground and rather
International trade in Hawksbill Turtle products in South-east Asia
Viet Nam
In 1999, Nguyen wrote that trade in stuffed turtles and turtle products was “still going on
throughout Vietnam”, and noted that several shops in Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau and Hanoi
were offering up to 100 stuffed marine turtles. She considered it unlikely that foreign tourists
were major purchasers, considering the difficulty, expense and risks inherent in transporting the
stuffed animal overseas. The findings for Ho Chi Minh City are in contrast to findings from this
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 22
survey, which showed that it was almost impossible
to avoid encountering bekko for sale in the shops
and areas of the city visited by foreign tourists. All
bekko products encountered in Ho Chi Minh City
shops during surveys in 2002 were labelled with
prices in US dollars, suggesting that the trade was
primarily aimed at foreign buyers. Only a few shops
had prices written in local currency as well. With
prices starting from USD1, cost was no impediment
for anyone wishing to acquire a souvenir and it was
found that only some traders would admit to
customers (and then often only when asked) that
exporting bekko items from Viet Nam was an
offence. When asked, many of the vendors in Ho
Chi Minh City stated that foreigners bought bekko
items; some traders in the city said that their bekko
sales were exclusively to foreigners. Buyers from
Japan, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Canada and the
USA were mentioned specifically, with Japanese
and Chinese buyers being said to be the most numerous, and buyers of the largest quantities.
Many dealers indicated that wholesale quantities for export represented a large, perhaps the
largest, part of their trade.
The three main traders in Ha Tien asserted that much or most of the retail sales of Hawksbill
Turtle shell product was to Vietnamese people, and that very few foreign tourists bought bekko
products. However, some retail sales in Ha Tien and at Mui Nai Beach and the Chua Hang
Pagoda were said to be made to foreigners, mostly from Japan and China.
It is reasonable to assume that many of the foreign customers referred to by Vietnamese traders
were tourists, rather than Viet Nam-based expatriates, and thus it is reasonable to assume that
bekko items sold to them were traded internationally, illegally. One trader claimed to sell
spectacle frames, particularly the high-value shiroko, by mail-order to Japan. Other manufac-
turers and traders in Viet Nam stated that foreign buyers exported bulk quantities for resale at
home - Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea were mentioned - and, notably, one regular buyer
from Hong Kong was said to come approximately every three months to buy everything in
stock, at the Phan Van Than company in Ha Tien, allegedly to take the bekko items back to Hong
Kong. Thus, there existed indications of illegal international trade in Viet Nam in February
2002, on a commercial scale. The survey of trade in marine turtle products carried out in May
2002 (Anon., in prep.), similarly found widespread allegations of wholesale exports from Viet
Nam to Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, mainland China and Asian
communities in North America and Europe.
While domestic harvest and exploitation of Hawksbill Turtles (for eggs, meat, stuffed turtles and
bekko) may be partly responsible for the decline of Viet Nam’s Hawksbill Turtle stocks, these
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 23
Credit: Chris R. Shepherd/TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
Stuffed Hawksbill Turtles for sale in
Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, 2002
pressures may be secondary to the impacts of international trade. The entry into force of
protective legislation in Viet Nam, in April 2002, may have altered this situation, but verifi-
cation is clearly important.
There is no evidence of any large shipment of bekko from Indonesia to Japan after the confis-
cation of three tonnes in August 1995, yet the indications that some traders continue to maintain
bekko stocks, and rumours of large shipments being planned, suggest that at least a few in
Indonesia are biding their time and waiting for an opportunity to resume bulk exports. Existing
legal bekko stocks in Indonesia appear to have been poorly documented, but some of the stocks
catalogued and verified in the late 1980s have been reduced, through illegal exports (for
example, the 1995 shipment destined for Japan) and alleged theft of stock during the 1997 riots
in Ujung Pandang and elsewhere in Indonesia.
Potential for international trade in Indonesia and Viet Nam
A resumption of legal international trade between other CITES Parties could lead traders in
Indonesia to believe that Indonesia, too, might seek CITES authority to resume exports at some
date in the future and this could be an encouragement to traders to rebuild these stocks to the
last-registered quantities. Doing so could increase demand on the underground market and thus
lead to increased exploitation pressures on Hawksbill Turtle stocks. For Viet Nam, likewise,
any increase in wholesale demand and prices for Hawksbill Turtles and bekko on international
markets might sustain or even encourage growth of existing trade networks. Potentially
balancing this risk is the possibility that a legal supply of bekko from Cuba, or another source,
to end-user bekko markets in East Asia could displace the residual demand there that appeared
to drive at least some proportion of the Hawksbill Turtle harvest in Indonesia and Viet Nam in
2001/2002. It is not possible to predict with certainty which scenario is more likely. Of
immediate concern, however, is the fact that conservation measures in place in both countries
at the time of this survey were insufficient to deter on-going Hawksbill Turtle take and trade.
Viet Nam’s legislative changes in 2002 may help frame a remedial response to this situation. In
Indonesia, better control of existing legal stocks and the enhancement of efforts to intercept
illegal trade routes would seem to be key aspects to address in order to stem and deter illegal
trade. Such measures are necessary irrespective of events in the CITES arena.
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 24
· At the time of the survey in Viet Nam (February 2002), the trade in Hawksbill Turtles and
their products in the country had increased from trade levels described for 1993. Inclusion
of the Hawksbill Turtle under Vietnamese protective legislation in April 2002 is a potentially
significant step forward in efforts to conserve remaining populations of the species in Viet
Trade in Hawksbill Turtles in Indonesia appeared to have declined significantly over the past
decade or so, particularly the open retail trade. Wholesale trade appeared also to have
declined, and trade seemed to have moved underground. Bekko stocks had apparently
declined significantly. A small number of traders currently inactive in the bekko trade
claimed to be awaiting an opportunity to resume trade if legal exports were allowed again.
Indications of re-opening legal international trade in bekko may be taken as encouragement
for some Indonesian traders to rebuild stocks, which would be likely to lead to increased
exploitation pressures on regional Hawksbill Turtle populations.
· The risk of Indonesian bekko traders rebuilding illegal stocks would be reduced if the
Indonesian Government were to increase monitoring efforts to ensure that its stock records
were up-to-date. This would act as a further deterrent to illegal trade and aid in their
monitoring and controlling efforts.
In both Viet Nam and Indonesia, trade dynamics at the time of research for this report
demonstrated that urgent action was needed to address the taking of Hawksbill Turtles and
trade in their products, irrespective of events in the CITES arena.
The Indonesian Government should compile up-to-date data on existing Indonesian
stockpiles, as any indication of resumption of international trade of bekko could lead to
requests from Indonesian traders to be allowed to sell their stockpiles.
Remaining illegal stockpiles of bekko should be seized by the Indonesian Government, in
accordance with the law, to help prevent further illegal export.
Existing efforts to address illegal exploitation of Hawksbill Turtles and trade in their parts,
by government authorities and NGOs in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and
other regional Hawksbill Turtle range States should be acknowledged and expanded by the
range State governments, and supported by donor governments.
· Any proposed Hawksbill Turtle ranching projects in Indonesia should be monitored closely
(by both NGOs and the Indonesian Government) as these are suspected to be potential
laundering operations.
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 25
An updated survey of the bekko industry and trade in Yogyakarta, Java, should be carried
out as this city has been identified as a potential centre in the trade. Further trade and
stockpile surveys are needed in Ujung Pandang and trade surveys are recommended in West
Sumatra, Nias, Papua and other areas where significant harvest and trade of Hawksbill
Turtles are known or suspected to occur.
In Viet Nam, public education and awareness, aimed at both traders and buyers, should be
initiated to publicize the recent full protection status afforded the Hawksbill Turtle.
Campaigns to encourage people to refrain from buying Hawksbill Turtle products and to
make foreigners aware of the CITES legislation forbidding the international trade and
transport of this species and its parts should be continued and increased where possible, by
NGOs and the government..
Viet Nam’s legal protection of Hawksbill Turtles should be followed up with targeted
enforcement actions, including tackling the domestic trade and increasing efforts to detect
and prevent further illegal exports of Hawksbill Turtle products from Viet Nam. Capacity-
building for relevant government agencies should be carried out to aid in these enforcement
A further survey in Viet Nam should be initiated to assess the impact of recently
implemented domestic market controls on the availability of bekko products throughout the
Regional seizure monitoring should be organized for all South-east and East Asia, to help
track the incidence of commercial shipments. Indonesia and Viet Nam should be
encouraged to accede to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild
Animals (CMS), in order to enhance multinational and trans-regional co-operation on
marine turtle conservation issues between the governments of South-east Asia..
SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 26
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SHELLED OUT? a Snapshot of Bekko Trade in Selected Locations in South-east Asia 29
The Executive Director
TRAFFIC International
219a Huntingdon Road
Cambridge CB3 0DL
Telephone: (44) 1223 277427
Fax: (44) 1223 277237
is a joint programme of
MARCH 2004
TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to
ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat
to the conservation of nature. It has offices covering most
parts of the world and works in close co-operation with the
Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
For further information contact:
The Director
TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
Unit 9-3A, 3rd Floor
Jalan SS23/11, Taman SEA
Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Telephone: (603) 7880 3940
Fax: (603) 7882 0171
... For centuries, marine turtles have been exploited for their shells, sought-after for the production of artefacts and ornaments (Aikin, 1840;Groombridge and Luxmoore, 1989;van Dijk and Shepherd, 2004;Kinch and Burgess, 2009;Lam et al., 2012). China and Japan have featured prominently in this trade, with Hawksbill Turtle shells coveted in the luxury arts and crafts markets, though this was also popular in the Republic of Korea and Taiwan Province of China (Groombridge and Luxmoore, 1989;Lam et al., 2012). ...
... Japan's marine turtle shell import from 1970-1986 was said to involve more than 600,000 Hawksbill Turtles (Milliken and Tokunaga, 1987). Marine turtle shells, also known more popularly by the Japanese term bekko, are used as ornaments and curios such as jewellery, combs, hand-held fans, buttons, spectacle frames as well as furniture embellishments in more elaborate cases (Limpus and Miller, 1990;van Dijk and Shepherd, 2004). The harder shell of Hawksbill Turtle makes it a preferred choice of species that is targeted for the trade in bekko (Canin, 1991;Hainshwang and Leggio, 2006;). ...
... In Viet Nam, prior to 2002, studies demonstrated that the trade in marine turtle products in Viet Nam was threatening local populations (CRES 1994;Duc and Broad 1995;TRAFFIC 2004;van Dijk and Shepherd 2004). Since then Viet Nam has made strong commitments to addressing the issues of marine turtle conservation by becoming a signatory to a variety of global and regional conventions and treaties. ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
Illegal trade in marine turtles persists in Indonesia, Malaysia and Viet Nam, with thousands of marine turtles and their parts found in seizures, in both physical and online markets in the three countries. At least 2,354 whole turtles, both live and dead, were seized in 163 law enforcement incidents in the three countries from 2015 to July 2019. Over 91,000 eggs were seized (of which over 75,000 were seized just in Malaysia), together with close to 3,000 shells and 1. 7 tonnes of turtle meat. Analysis of data of seizures made outside the three countries in 2016 and 2017 implicated Indonesia and Viet Nam in international trafficking of marine turtles. Viet Nam was linked to six of the eight seizure incidents scrutinised, either as the country of origin or destination. At least 782 Hawksbill Turtles were seized in the eight incidents, with over 380 of these heading to Viet Nam from France, originating from Haiti.
... However, the volume of this trade is still substantial. The collection of tortoiseshell still occurs in numerous places, with most of the trade appearing to be disorganized and underground [8,12]. ...
... Within the last 150 years, there were harvested more than 9 million hawksbills for their tortoiseshell around the globe [13] and Indonesia is historically one of the main harvesters and exporters [12]. Recent (between January 2015 and August 2018) seizures from Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam recorded trade of 174 stuffed, and 936 crafted products with almost 1 tonne of raw scutes [14]. ...
... This disparity in absolute bycatch may reflect the relative abundance of species in a given ocean basin, where there can be a difference of orders of magnitude among populations and species (Donoso & Dutton, 2010). For example, absolute hawksbill bycatch from our study is overshadowed by numbers of hawksbills harvested for the tortoiseshell trade in the Indo-Pacific (Van Dijk & Shepherd, 2004) and by the number of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) consumed by humans at Baja California Sur, Mexico in the North Pacific (Senko et al., 2014), where hawksbills and green turtles are more abundant than eastern Pacific hawksbills (Seminoff, 2004;Mortimer & Donnelly, 2008). When combining our bycatch data of juveniles in lobster gillnet fisheries with those of other fisheries in the region, particularly juveniles killed in bottom-set gillnets in Mexico (Seminoff et al., 2003;Koch et al., 2006), Ecuador (Alava et al., 2005), and Peru (Alfaro-Shigueto et al., 2010a, 2010bOrtiz et al., 2016), and juvenile and adult mortality in bottom-set longlines (M. ...
Full-text available
Small-scale coastal fisheries can cause detrimental impacts to non-target megafauna through bycatch. This can be particularly true when high-use areas for such species overlap with fishing grounds, as is the case with hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) aggregations at lobster gillnet fishing sites in El Salvador and Nicaragua. We quantified hawksbill bycatch by partnering with local fishers to record data for 690 gillnet sets on rocky reefs at Los Cóbanos Reef Marine Protected Area (2008-2009) and Punta Amapala (2012-2014) in El Salvador, and La Salvia (2012-2014) in Nicaragua. Based on 31 observed hawksbill captures, the mean bycatch-per-unit-effort (0.0022; individuals per set = 0.0450) and mortality (0.74) are among the highest reported for the species across fishing gear types and oceanic regions worldwide, and we conservatively estimate that at least 227 juvenile hawksbill captures occurred in lobster gillnet fishing fleets at our sites during the study. Estimated mortality for the 227 hawksbills -which could approach the 74% observed mortality of total captures- from interactions with lobster gillnet fisheries at these sites during the study period may constitute the greatest single source of human-induced in-water mortality for juvenile, sub-adult, and adult hawksbills in the eastern Pacific, and is of grave concern to the population. Based on our findings, we discuss neritic habitat use by hawksbills during their ‘lost years’ and offer recommendations for bycatch reduction strategies, including community-based efforts to enhance sustainable self-governance via the establishment of locally crafted conservationist norms and marine protected areas at important developmental habitat.
... International demand for shark meat, fins and medicinal products is the driving force of a lucrative trade that is often illegal and is endangering a growing number of shark species around the world. Van Dijk and Shepherd 2004 The demand for coral and aquarium fish in China, Europe and the United States is also being supplied by source countries in the Pacific. 23 Around 2,000 species of coral are listed in Appendix II of CITES. ...
... As a result of this dramatic decline, hawksbill turtles are currently listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (Groombridge and Luxmoore 1989;Mortimer and Donnelly 2008). Despite regulation, domestic trade and clandestine international imports still occur in numerous countries and constitute an ongoing threat for hawksbill turtle populations in America, Asia and parts of Africa (Fleming 2001;TRAFFIC Southeast Asia 2004;van Dijk and Shepherd 2004;Bräutigam and Eckert 2006;Reuter and Allan 2006;Kinch and Burgess 2009). Conservation initiatives have benefited some nesting aggregations with population sizes stabilising or increasing, but those numbers are still low compared with historical levels and most major rookeries continue to observe decreasing annual numbers of nesting females (Mortimer and Donnelly 2008). ...
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Context. Following centuries of intense human exploitation, the global stocks of hawksbill turtle have decreased precipitously and the species is currently considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Australia supports the largest breeding aggregations worldwide; however, there are no accurate estimates of population abundance and seasonality for hawksbill turtles at important nesting grounds in eastern Arnhem Land. Aims. This study was designed to fill in this lack of ecological information and assist with the conservation and management of hawksbill turtles. More specifically, our overarching goals were to assess nesting seasonality, habitat preferences and provide the first estimate of annual nesting population size at a Northern Territory rookery. Methods. In 2009 and 2010 we collected beach monitoring, satellite telemetry and sand temperature data over two nesting seasons at a group of three islands located 30 km off Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, northern Australia. We subsequently analysed these data to unravel hawksbill nesting behaviour and reproductive outputs, and examined the vulnerability of this rookery to climate change. Key results. Hawksbill turtle nesting seasonality consistently started in mid-May, peaked in mid-August and ended in late November. Annual nesting abundance showed a near 3-fold increase between 2009 and 2010, with an average of 220 and 580 hawksbill females nesting on this island group respectively. Sand temperature at 50 cm reached more than 30 C at all monitored sites during most of the peak of the incubation period. Conclusions. This remote and untouched group of islands constitutes a major hawksbill turtle rookery both nationally and globally. While anthropogenic impacts and predation are low year round, climate change threatens to skew hatchling sex ratios, eventually leading to an increase in hatchling mortality. Implications. Additional ground-based surveys are required to refine the accuracy of population estimates presented in this study. Given the paucity of data in the region, we recommend this island group off Groote Eylandt be used as a population-monitoring index site for the eastern Arnhem Land hawksbill turtle breeding aggregation.
Bird trade has led to increasing endangerment of species throughout South-East Asia. An opportunistic survey of two bird markets in Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia, highlights continuing problems with illegal trade. In June 2019, a total of 63 species, accounting for 6,352 birds, were observed in two Makassar bird markets. The majority of the birds observed were native to Indonesia, but not necessarily native to Sulawesi, illustrating the movement of birds for commercial trade across the archipelago. Fifteen of the species observed are protected under Indonesian legislation, and the vast majority of the rest were likely to have been taken from the wild outside of Indonesia’s annual harvest and trade quota system. Such illegal trade is a major contributing driver to the decline in wild populations and undermines national legislation and conservation efforts.
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Marine turtles are of conservation concern throughout their range, with past population declines largely due to exploitation through both legal and illegal take, and incidental capture in fisheries. Whilst much research effort has been focused on nesting beaches and elaborating migratory corridors, these species spend the vast majority of their life-cycle in foraging grounds, which are, in some species, quite discrete. To understand and manage these populations, empirical data are needed on distribution, space-use, and habitats to best inform design of protective measures. Here we describe space-use, occupancy, and wide-ranging movements derived from conventional flipper tagging and satellite tracking of sub-adult green turtles (Chelonia mydas) within the coastal waters of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI; 2011-2017). 623 turtles were fitted with flipper tags, with 69 subsequently recaptured, five of which in international waters. Sixteen individual turtles of between 63 and 81 cm curved carapace length were satellite tracked for a mean 226 days (range: 38-496). Data revealed extended periods of occupancy in the shallow coastal waters within a RAMSAR protected area. Satellite tracking and flipper tagging showed wide-ranging movements, with flipper tag recaptures occurring in waters off Nicaragua (n = 4), and Venezuela (n = 1). Also, four of 16 satellite tracked turtles exhibiting directed movements away (displaced >450 km) from TCI waters traveling through nine geo-political zones within the Caribbean-Atlantic basin, as well as on the High Seas. One turtle traveled to the Central American coast before settling on inshore habitat in Colombia's waters for 162 days before transmission ceased, indicating ontogenetic dispersal to a distant foraging habitat. These data highlight connectivity throughout the region, displaying key linkages between countries that have previously only been linked by genetic evidence. This study also provides evidence of the importance of the Turks and Caicos Islands marine protected area network and importance of effective management of the sea turtle fishery for regional green turtle populations.
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Estimates of adult female hawksbills remaining worldwide range from 15,000-25,000 and it is classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ throughout its range by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Recent research by the Monterey Bay Aquarium estimated a total of nine million hawksbills exported during the international trade from the mid-1800’s to the late 1900’s, making this trade the biggest reason for their decline. The legal international trade ended in 1992 when Japan dropped their exception under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) but the illegal trade continues in many countries nearly 30 years later. Synthesizing new research in eight countries with recent reports by Too Rare To Wear, CITES, and others, this report takes the first global look at this trade in decades with information on the trade in nearly 50 countries. Our findings include ten countries that still have a significant domestic trade, thirty countries that have a minor domestic trade, and seven countries where more research is required. Over the past three years, through the combined research cited in this report, an estimated 46,448 individual tortoiseshell products have been counted for sale in person and online. Evidence suggests that the online trade is growing and, in some countries, may exceed in-person sales. In addition, though the research is difficult to compare over time, the domestic trade appears to be declining in at least five countries. Too Rare To Wear is a coalition of more than 150 conservation organizations and tourism companies working to end demand for tortoiseshell products. We conduct research into the trade, educate travelers how to recognize and avoid these products, and work to create new tools to support enforcement and outreach. Too Rare To Wear is a campaign of SEE Turtles, a non-profit sea turtle conservation organization based in Oregon, USA.
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It is important to identify the location of illegal poaching and its effects on the conservation of endangered species. This study applied molecular techniques to estimate the origin of sea turtle carcasses (N = 53) found at Pulau Tiga, Kudat, Malaysia (Borneo) in 2014. All carcasses were of adult (77%) and large juvenile (23%) green turtles (Chelonia mydas). A total of 10 haplotypes of mitochondrial DNA were identified. A Bayesian mixed-stock analysis showed that the natal origin was mainly from the Sulu and Celebes Seas (uninformative prior: median = 53.0%, 95% credible interval [CI] = 34.5–76.9%; informative prior: median = 61.3%, CI = 36.9–89.4%). The estimation of source foraging grounds of the carcasses as poaching sites indicated the Brunei Bay in the South China Sea as the most probable source (median = 90.2%, CI = 11.2–99.9%), although caution is needed since there is a possibility of poaching at unsampled foraging grounds. The results indicate that such poaching has negative effects especially for the nesting populations at the Sulu and Celebes Seas. This study provides information that contributes to the development of measures against poaching activities by regional collaboration regarding sea turtle traffic and law enforcement in Southeast Asia.
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The complexity of trade networks is a significant challenge to controlling wildlife trafficking and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Such networks may not be modern inventions, but have developed over centuries, from integrated global markets that preceded modern regulatory policies. To understand these linkages, we curated 150 years of tortoiseshell transactions and derived biologically-informed harvest models to estimate the trade in critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata). We find trade networks concentrated in Southeast Asia harvested 9 million turtles, over six times previous estimates. These networks spread from within the Pacific, to the Indian and Atlantic basins, and became dramatically more complex after 1950. Our results further indicate the magnitude and extent of the coastally-restricted hawksbill exploitation parallels current patterns of IUU fishing. Policies to combat these interlinked illegal practices should assimilate the important role of small-scale, coastal fisheries in these increasingly complex global networks.
The hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) meets the 1996 IUCN Red List criteria for a Critically Endangered species, based on global population declines of 80% or more during the last three generations (105 years) and projected declines over the next three generations. Most popula- tions are declining, depleted, or remnants of larger aggregations. Only five regional populations remain with more than 1000 females nesting annually (Seychelles, Mexico, Indonesia, and two in Australia). Hawksbills were previously abundant, as evidenced by high-density nesting at a few remaining sites and by trade statistics. Of all the species of marine turtles, the hawksbill has endured the longest and most sustained history of exploitation. In addition to all the threats shared with other marine turtles, hawksbills are exploited for tortoiseshell — long considered a precious material. While the species is not expected to become extinct in the foreseeable future, individual populations from around the world will continue to disappear under the current regime of exploitation, loss of habitat, and other threats. Hawksbills are closely associated with coral reefs, one of the most endangered of all marine ecosystem types. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), with good enforcement, is an effective tool to implement hawksbill conservation. For more than any other marine turtle species, international trade remains the most serious threat.
In 1995–1996 we surveyed for emergence traces and nests of sea turtles in Okinawajima and adjacent islands. A total of 61 clutches was found, of which 47 belonged to the loggerheads (Caretta caretta) and five to the green turtles (Chelonia mydas); nine remained unidentified. Estimated nesting dates of the loggerheads and the green turtles ranged from mid May to late and mid July, respectively. A highly significant positive correlation was recognized between the numbers of body pits and nests containing clutches on each beach (r=0.951, p<0.001). The geographic pattern of the density of body pits calculated on the basis of data from the present and the previous (1994) surveys suggests that several beaches in the northern half of Okinawajima are especially important for breeding populations of sea turtles around the central Ryukyus.