(WildAid) - Chinese actor Eddie Peng (Peng Yuyan) is reminding the public that beautiful souvenirs are often made from poached Hawksbill sea turtles, contributing to their critically endangered status.
“The oceans are facing very serious challenges to staying healthy and productive. We all need to act fast to help reverse these alarming trends,” said Steve Blake of WildAid in China. “There are simple things we can all do such as reducing the amount of plastic we use and saying no to all illegal marine products, especially from sea turtles.”
Of the seven species of sea turtles, five are found in Chinese waters. In the 1980s there were an estimated 14,000 green sea turtles found in Chinese waters, but by 2008 that number was less than 2,000. The only active nesting sites in China are now in the remote Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, illegal products made from sea turtle shells are easily found for sale throughout Asia and China. In the last five years, Chinese authorities have intercepted 38 smuggling cases involving sea turtle products. Most commonly seen items are made from “critically endangered” hawksbill turtles, with only an estimated 23,000 remaining globally.
A 2017 WildAid survey of 1,500 residents in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beihai, and Sanya showed that 17% of respondents had previously purchased sea turtle products, most of them as souvenirs.
To address consumer demand, Peng asks people in China to save sea turtles by saying no to products made from their shells. The campaign is being shared on social media, TV, and outdoor billboards in key markets across China.
“Don't be fooled by the beauty of hawksbill products, because they all came from illegal and devastating trade,” says Peng. “This natural beauty belongs in the ocean.”
Ocean fisheries are being depleted at a devastating rate around the world, with an estimated one-third of commercial fisheries suffering from over-fishing. As sea turtle populations decline so do their ability to maintain healthy ocean ecosystems. They are one of the few sea creatures to eat sea grass, keeping it a healthy breeding place for species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Their unhatched eggs on beaches are also a good source of nutrients for dune vegetation.
WildAid works with the Chinese government to reduce demand for sea turtles parts and partners with rangers and a wildlife hospital in Machalilla National Park to protect hatchlings and rehabilitate sea turtles that have been injured from illegal fishermen.