WildAid: How can you stop wildlife trafficking?

Clownfish became popular targets for the reef fish trade after "Finding Nemo" (Laura Wais / WildAid)

(SAN FRANCISCO / WILDAID) - With an estimated value of $7 to 23 billion annually, the illegal wildlife trade threatens endangered species around the globe.

Recently, Peruvian police seized 29 Galapagos giant tortoises from traffickers attempting to smuggle the highly-endangered species to the European Black market on a bus. Unfortunately, two of the 29 turtles were dead upon rescue, but the remaining turtles were sent back to the Galapagos, where they are now being checked by Galapagos National Park staff.

More commonly, the poaching of sea turtle eggs occurs at nesting sites around the world. Sea turtles can lay hundreds of eggs per nest, and with the price of an individual egg reaching the thousands of dollars on the black market, it’s no mystery why poachers plunder their nests. In Nicaragua, sea turtle eggs are a cultural delicacy, and a study by Fauna and Flora International revealed that eggs were consumed primarily for their taste and perceived nutritional value.

Another industry fueled by lucrative prices is the tropical reef fish trade which is prevalent in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Approximately 10 to 30 million fish are traded annually with a value of approximately $200 to 750 million. The industry is rife with destructive and illegal fishing practices. Fishermen, typically in poverty stricken areas, practice dynamite and cyanide fishing to retrieve the fish. The blasts and chemicals stun the fish, facilitating their capture, but they simultaneously kill many other fish, marine animals and destroy the coral reefs.

Solutions to Marine Wildlife Trafficking

While there is no one solution to solving wildlife trafficking, numerous organizations have spearheaded initiatives to prevent poaching, prosecute offenders and reduce demand for wildlife products.

Sea turtle eggs in a nest (Ecuador Ministry of Environment / WildAid)

In Ecuador, WildAid trains park rangers in C3 tactics and helps procure surveillance technology to help catch poachers in the act. Our efforts have dramatically improved surveillance coverage of the Galapagos Marine Reserve and as a result improved deterrence. In Nicaragua, WildAid worked with partners to improve nocturnal surveillance via the procurement of thermal surveillance cameras to monitor the beaches for sea turtle poachers. Likewise, PasoPacifico has complemented monitoring efforts by planting fake sea turtle eggs on Nicaragua’s beaches to gather intelligence on underground poaching networks in the country.

To curb blast fishing, organizations like Oceana educate local fishermen about the benefits of a healthy reef with abundant fish populations, demonstrating the value of the flourishing habitat. Well-enforced marine protected areas with established no-take zones, seasonal closures on fishing and regulations on quantity and size of fish also deter destructive fishing practices in places like Malaysia, Indonesia and Palau.

Of course, wildlife trafficking is heavily dependent on consumer demand. WildAid’s campaigns in China have successfully reduced demand for some wildlife products, which in turn have reduced prices on the black market. Thus, we urge you to consider your purchases at home and during travels. Purchasing items made from tortoise or sea turtle shells contribute to these practices and your dollars and voice can go a long way in deterring poaching. For families purchasing a home aquarium, we recommend using the Tank Watch app to identify reef-friendly species or seafood lovers can download the SeafoodWatch app to ensure they eat only sustainably-caught fish. Thanks to your support, we can end these illegal practices to help endangered wildlife flourish.