Florida authorities bust trafficking ring smuggling thousands of native turtles

By Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 4:30 PM ET, Sat October 19, 2019

Thousands of wild turtles were being captured and sold illegally in Florida.

(CNN)Two men have been charged for poaching thousands of Florida turtles and
selling them illegally, according to the
<https://myfwc.com/news/all-news/turtle-traffic/> Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission.

The “charges represent the state’s largest seizure of turtles in recent
history,” the FWC said in a statement on Friday.

More than 4,000 turtles comprising a range of native species were illegally
captured and sold over six months, the commission said. The turtles were
worth $200,000 on the black market.

“The illegal trade of turtles is having a global impact on many turtle
species and our ecosystems,” said Eric Sutton, the FWC’s executive director.

Two suspects have been charged for smuggling thousands of turtles and
selling them illegally.

After receiving a tip in February 2018, the FWC launched an undercover
investigation where they discovered a ring of traffickers who were selling
wild turtles to reptile dealers and distributors.

The suspects had taken so many turtles from targeted habitats that
populations were depleted, the commission said.

“Wild turtle populations cannot sustain the level of harvest that took place
here,” said Brooke Talley, the FWC’s reptile and amphibian conservation
coordinator. “This will likely have consequences for the entire ecosystem
and is a detriment for our citizens and future generations.”

Investigators served a search warrant on August 12, during which they found
hundreds of turtles and the skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle,
the <https://conserveturtles.org/information-sea-turtles-species-world/>
most endangered species of sea turtles.

The skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the most endangered
species of sea turtles, was found in possession of the suspects.

The suspects sold the turtles for cash and marijuana products, the
commission said. Both suspects face a variety of poaching-related charges.

While the turtles were sold in Florida, they were sold to buyers who shipped
them overseas, specifically in Asia where they were bought as pets.
Depending upon the species, the commission said the poached turtles sold
wholesale for up to $300 each and retailed for as much as $10,000 each in
Asia.

“Over 600 turtles were returned to the wild, two dozen were quarantined and
released at a later date, and a handful were retained by a captive wildlife
licensee since they were not native to the area,” the commission said.

“We commend our law enforcement’s work to address the crisis of illegal
wildlife trafficking,” said Sutton.

CNN’s Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.

Rare sighting of leatherback off B.C. coast raises issue of plastic pollution

Endangered giant turtle, a ‘living dinosaur,’ often bears brunt of waste in ocean, marine biologist says

Jennifer Wilson · CBC News · Posted: Aug 25, 2018 8:00 AM PT | Last Updated: an hour ago

<https://i.cbc.ca/1.4795678.1535143174!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_780/leatherback-turtle.jpg>

There have been fewer than 135 leatherback sightings in B.C. waters since the 1930s. The giant turtles swim from Indonesia to feed on jellyfish. (Willie Mitchell / Jeremy Koreski)

A rare sighting of the endangered leatherback turtle off the B.C. coast is an opportunity to celebrate — but also to reflect on the danger of plastic waste in the oceans, a marine biologist says.

Earlier this month, two Vancouver Island men captured photos of the enormous sea turtle. It was one of fewer than 135 sightings recorded in B.C. waters since the 1930s.

The leatherback is one of the largest reptiles on the planet and can grow to the size of a Smart car. Instead of a shell, the turtles have a thick, collapsible leather-like back that allows them to dive to extreme ocean depths of up to 1,270 metres.

The turtles, which travel from Indonesia to feed on jellyfish, have seen their populations decline drastically in recent years, in part due to frequent entanglement in plastic pollution, according to the the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Turtles confuse balloons with jellyfish

In Jackie Hildering’s experience, marine species are often the first to bear the brunt of environmental problems and leatherbacks are no exception, as many are found with plastic in their stomachs.

Hildering, a researcher with the Marine Education and Research Society, said many people in B.C. may not even know the species exists in local waters, but that even small actions such as releasing a balloon into the air without thinking about where it might land can have an impact on the turtles’ survival.

“One of the powerful things to realize is that they can’t discern plastics and balloons from their jellyfish prey,” she told Jason D’Souza, host of CBC’s <https://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/all-points-west> All Points West.

Leatherback turtles in Canada have been designated as an endangered species under the Species at Risk Act. The species has lost 70 per cent of its numbers in the past 15 years.

Tracking jellyfish

A major challenge in tracking and restoring leatherback populations in B.C. waters is first tracking their food source, the jellyfish, said Lisa Spaven, a scientist with the DFO’s Pacific Biological Station.

Marine biologists rely on fish surveys to include jellyfish population data, including density and location. Jellyfish are hard to track and scientists are still figuring out whether leatherbacks prefer areas with a high density of small jellyfish or a low density of large jellyfish, Spaven said.

<https://i.cbc.ca/1.4522193.1535071363!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_780/jellyfish-bloom-b-c-ubc.jpg>

Hundreds of jellyfish float beneath the surface off Canada’s West Coast. They are the food source that draws the leatherback turtle across the ocean from Indonesia. (Keith Holmes/Hakai Institute)

“We’re still trying to get a handle on the currents and where the jellyfish are. There’s a lot of work yet to be done,” she said.

Funding for leatherback conservation was not approved by the DFO this year according to Spaven but her department continues to carry out habitat protection work in Indonesia, where nests are at risk from predators such as wild pigs.

‘​Smallest needle in the biggest haystack’

Former Vancouver Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell and photographer Jeremy Koreski spotted the turtle on Aug. 6 just west of Tofino, B.C., and forwarded their photos to Hildering.

Hildering said the men recognized the turtle as a leatherback but, like many in B.C., did not know how important the sighting was.

“​I don’t think they knew that I would fall off my chair when they sent the photos, I don’t know that they knew they found the smallest needle in the biggest haystack,” she said.

Leatherbacks are “living dinosaurs” that “belong in B.C. waters,” Hildering said, and their presence is a reminder of the wide variety of species B.C. coastal waters should support under optimal conditions.

“It’s a testament to how rich our waters are supposed to be.”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/rare-sighting-of-leatherback-off-b-c-coast-raises-issue-of-plastic-pollution-1.4795676

Sea Shepherd Announces Operation Jairo II

baby sea turtle trying to make it to the seababy sea turtle trying to make it to the seaLOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 8, 2016:  Today, on World Oceans Day, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is proud to announce its latest campaign to defend, conserve and protect our oceans.

The campaign, Operation Jairo II, will span three countries including the United States, Honduras and Costa Rica to protect endangered sea turtles. The launch comes on the heels of Sea Shepherd’s announcement of its first full-length feature film, Why Just One?, chronicling the organization’s successful 2015 Operation Jairo campaign.

The crowd-funded documentary Why Just One? raised its goal of $18,000 in one day to complete the production and has a star-studded list of names supporting it. Like its predecessor, Operation Jairo II is named after Jairo Mora Sandoval, a Costa Rican turtle defender who was brutally murdered on May 31, 2013 while attempting to protect leatherback turtle nests.

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world. Four have been identified as “endangered” or “critically endangered,” and two are classed as “vulnerable,” by the IUCN Red List of Endangered species. Sea turtles are some of the oldest living creatures, one of the few who’ve watched dinosaurs evolve and become extinct. They are now facing the same fate as their predecessors.

“This species which has survived so much, may not survive us,” commented Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is requesting donations to fund Operation Jairo II by asking fans to become monthly donors. To donate, visit http://my.seashepherd.org/DAC.

Baby sea turtles on their march to the sea

About Operation Jairo II

Operation Jairo II will launch in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on July 15 until September 1, with volunteers working to protect green, loggerhead, and leatherback sea turtles. Sea Shepherd will work with Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (S.T.O.P.) to protect sea turtle nests and guide hatchlings to the sea, away from the commercial lighting that disorients them.

The Honduras campaign will be held in Utila from August 1 to November 1, where Sea Shepherd volunteers will protect hawksbill, green, and loggerhead sea turtles. Partnering with Bay Island Conservation Association (B.I.C.A.), Sea Shepherd will protect nesting females and nests from poachers. The Honduran Navy will provide security for beach patrols.

From September 1 to December 1, Operation Jairo II will move to Costa Rica where ground campaign volunteers will work in Jaco to protect primarily olive ridley and green sea turtles. The Jaco police are teaming with Sea Shepherd volunteers to protect nesting females and nests from poachers. Nests will be relocated to a hatchery run by the Jaco police force.

Campaign volunteers will conduct weekly beach cleanups in all three locations.

Click here to volunteer for Operation Jairo II.  Email the completed application to campaigns@seashepherd.org