The Signatory States to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia (IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU), at their Seventh Meeting in September 2014 in Bonn, Germany, identified a need to increase the visibility of issues related to illegal take/trade of marine turtles in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asian region.

Illegal take of marine turtles can assume various forms, from poaching of animals and eggs on nesting beaches to illegal take of animals at sea. Typically, green and leatherback turtles are hunted for their meat; the hawksbill turtle is hunted for its carapace as the raw material for craftwork; while the eggs of loggerhead and olive ridley turtles are considered a delicacy. Turtle meat consumption reportedly still occurs in 75% of IOSEA Signatory States, while trade in shell products seems to be predominant in countries of East Asia. 

Poaching of green and hawksbill turtles appears to be perpetrated mainly by Chinese and Vietnamese turtle fisheries operating in the so-called Coral Triangle area (especially in Indonesian, Malaysian and Philippine waters); and by local poachers particularly in the Western Indian Ocean (especially Kenya, Madagascar, and Mozambique). 

Throughout the IOSEA region, markets appear to differ considerably in terms of demand, prices and trade volumes, as well as the nature of goods traded. The main regional trade route for whole turtles and turtle derivatives seems to originate in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Such products are directed mainly towards East Asia, where mainland Chinese demand for turtle meat and medicine, and Japanese and Taiwanese demand for traditional crafts made of turtle scute (bekko) are reportedly on the rise.

Emerging commercial activities based on marine turtle exploitation have been reported in Madagascar and Mozambique. Kalimantan, Indonesia, was identified as an important source of eggs to supply Malaysia, particularly the state of Terengganu; but important egg collection activity has also been documented in many other countries, including Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and United Republic of Tanzania.

Virtually all IOSEA countries have enacted legislation to prohibit direct take and domestic trade in turtles and turtle derivatives, with a number of countries having increased fines or tightened prohibitions in recent years. However there is still considerable room for improvement in some countries where existing fines are inadequate as a deterrent to illegal activity, where a lack of harmonisation of legislation across states/provinces induces domestic trade, and where existing legislation is poorly enforced.

Other mitigation initiatives documented in IOSEA Signatory States include providing direct incentives to local stakeholders, such as employment/payment incentive schemes with the aim of deterring poaching. A number of examples of bilateral or multilateral initiatives have also shown promise in recent years, including training and enforcement workshops among countries of the Coral Triangle region, a bilateral agreement between Indonesia and the U.S. state of California focussing on leatherback turtle conservation, and Japanese funding for marine turtle-related programmes in South-East Asia.

Wider regional cooperation in combatting illegal wildlife trade falls under the ambit of various intergovernmental organisations and networks, including CITES, Interpol, the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network, and a relatively new International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). But everyone can play a role in combatting crime committed in relation marine turtles. 

This can be done, for instance, by engaging and supporting the work of some of the organisations listed on this webpage; or simply by reporting crimes when they are witnessed. To that end, a few online tools, among them WildLeaks and WildScan, are now available to the general public to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of key actors in international crime networks.