Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles
This intergovernmental treaty promotes the protection, conservation, and recovery of sea turtles and their habitats.
The Inter-American Convention (IAC) for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the legal framework for countries in the Americas and the Caribbean to take actions for the benefit of sea turtles.
The IAC promotes the protection, conservation, and recovery of sea turtles and the habitats they depend on, based on the best available data and the environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural characteristics of the IAC’s parties.
Six sea turtle species are protected under the IAC:
- Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
- Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
- Kemp's ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)
- Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
- Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
- Olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)
The 15 contracting parties to the IAC are:
- Costa Rica
- Netherlands (Antilles)
- United States
With the IAC, the parties make a binding commitment to:
- Prohibit deliberate “take” of sea turtles or their eggs (e.g., intentional capture, retention or killing of, and domestic trade in, sea turtles, their eggs, parts or products).
- Comply with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
- Implement appropriate fishing practices and gear technology to reduce bycatch and entanglement of turtles in all relevant fisheries.
- Use turtle excluder devices on shrimp trawl vessels.
- Designate protected areas for critical turtle habitat.
- Restrict human activities that could harm turtles.
- Promote of sea turtle research and education.
The treaty applies to all of the parties’ territorial waters and flagged vessels. It covers the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
Marine turtle conservation is critical to biodiversity.
Several turtle species play important roles in the ecosystems they inhabit. For instance, hawksbill turtles only eat specific varieties of coral sponges, allowing rarer species to become established and promoting a healthy, diverse coral reef ecosystem. Green turtles are the only herbivorous marine turtles, transfer nutrients from nutrient-rich areas like sea grass beds to nutrient-poor ecosystems like nesting beaches.
Because of their importance and quickly falling populations, all six species of sea turtle found in U.S. waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act as either threatened or endangered. (Some species are listed differently in different areas of their range.) But sea turtles are highly migratory, and no single country can protect them alone.
Therefore, sea turtles are given protection at the international level. All six species protected under the IAC are also listed:
- In Appendix I of the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, making any trade in turtles and turtle parts illegal.
- On the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
History and Role of the Inter-American Convention
The IAC was developed through international negotiating sessions and was opened for signature on December 1, 1996. Upon the signature of the eighth state in 2001, the treaty entered into force. It is open for accession by any state in the Americas and the Caribbean. The Convention operates through biennial Conferences of the Parties, during which member states discuss ongoing (and propose new) joint work to protect and conserve sea turtles. Among the measures encouraged by the Convention are:
- Capacity building and technology transfer to parties.
- Teaching the public about sea turtle conservation.
- Developing joint research programs.
- Cooperating with international organizations.
- Creating observer programs to monitor the implementation of the treaty.
- Reducing sea turtle bycatch in fisheries.
- Monitoring parties’ compliance with the Convention and its resolutions, including exceptions for coastal communities’ traditional livelihood.
- Member states are required to report annually on their activities supporting the IAC.
Other International Environmental Agreements
While the IAC is a stand-alone legal instrument, it works with many other international environmental agreements:
- The U.N. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (also known as the CMS or Bonn Convention), which encourages collaboration at the regional level. The CMS’s Appendices I and II list lists all western hemisphere marine turtle species.
- The Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol. Annex II of the protocol lists all six species of Caribbean sea turtle.
- The Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (known as the Cartagena Convention).
- The Cartagena Convention and the SPAW Protocol, supported by the U.N. Caribbean Environment Programme, also collaborate fully with the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network.
The success of the IAC also depends on a wide range of actors, including the academic community, nongovernmental organizations, local stakeholders, and all levels of government and civil society.