SCCF Herpetologist Joins National Effort

25 Feb 2021

 
 
 
SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz recently joined the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles, which is made up of biologists and law enforcement personnel from state, federal, and non-government agencies across the country. This group discusses current issues and trends involving turtle trafficking in the United States, devises solutions to combat trafficking, and protocols for the relocation of confiscated turtles.
 
It’s a critical time for the important work of the Collaborative, Lechowicz said. Turtles and tortoises were recently declared the most at-risk vertebrate group for extinction, surpassing primates. This designation is primarily from habitat loss, human consumption, traditional medicine use, and an ever-increasing pet trade demand. A global demand for turtles has placed heavy strain on turtle populations in the U.S., especially in the Southeast, which is severely affecting Southwest Florida, including Sanibel.
The illegal trafficking of turtles has become more common, and many law enforcement agencies are now spending more of their time and budgets investigating and thwarting these activities. Most “turtle-rich” states have been strengthening laws to align with neighboring states to close loopholes. “Sea turtles and native tortoises, such as the gopher tortoise, are only slightly affected by this current problem,” Lechowicz said. Primarily aquatic and semi-aquatic species such as box turtles (pictured here), diamondback terrapins, and mud turtles are kept as pets and as a good luck charm or symbol of a long-life or prosperity, mainly in Southeast Asia. They are transported in harsh conditions and investors bid on these poached turtles to sell to turtle-breeding farms or resellers to supply the exploding pet market.
 
SCCF has increased its efforts to conserve and research non-marine turtles on the island by taking on volunteers to assist with the Terrestrial and Freshwater Turtle Research (TFTR) efforts. This group surveys, measures and marks specific species on Sanibel in order to document movement and longevity data. Volunteers have a badge verifying their identity as part of the SCCF TFTR group.
 
By the Numbers
There are 360 species of turtles and tortoises throughout the world; 59 species belonging to seven taxonomic families exist in the United States. Florida has a rich diversity of turtles (27 species). Sixteen species (from all seven taxonomic families in the U.S.) either reside or nest on Sanibel, so the island hosts a strong diversity.
 
All turtles are protected on Sanibel as written in Section 10-6 (a-e) of the Sanibel Code. Sanibel turtles cannot be taken, captured, kept as pets, or killed for consumption. If you see someone catching turtles that is not clearly marked as one of our volunteers, please call the non-emergency phone number for the Sanibel Police Department (239-472-3111). For questions concerning this issue email clechowicz@sccf.org.