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Australian environmentalists welcome bank wariness on reef port
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) May 24, 2014

Illegal trade spikes in rare South Asian turtle: TRAFFIC
Manila (AFP) May 23, 2014 - A South Asian turtle famed for its polka dot skin is under growing threat of extinction as demand for it as an exotic pet booms, a wildlife monitoring group warned Friday.

Hundreds of the black spotted turtle are regularly discovered at airports around Asia, having been illegally smuggled in luggage aboard commercial passenger flights, TRAFFIC said.

Some are little bigger than a hand, but they can sell for thousands of dollars on the black market.

"Illegal international trade of the black spotted turtle in Asia has escalated over recent years and immediate action is required to stem the flow," TRAFFIC said as it released a report on the reptile's fate.

The turtle, also called the black pond turtle, is found in the rivers of Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. It is regarded as one of the most attractive turtles because of its spotted skin and boldly patterned shell.

The International Union of Conservation and Nature lists it as vulnerable, one step away from endangered, and TRAFFIC said the sudden rise in demand for the turtle as a pet in other parts of Asia had made its future much more fragile.

In the most recent seizure, 230 turtles were found in unclaimed bags at Bangkok's main international airport on May 14, according to TRAFFIC. The luggage had been on a flight from India.

Since January last year, authorities around the region have seized more than 2,000 turtles, with most of the busts occurring in Bangkok, TRAFFIC said.

It said Bangkok was regarded as a transit hub, with the turtles then flown to Hong Kong, Taiwan and other places in East Asia where there was high demand for them as pets.

A mature turtle that is about 30 centimetres (11 inches) long can cost more than $2,000 in Hong Kong, according to people who follow the trade.

Many turtles around the world are seriously threatened, with those in Asia particularly at risk due to their habitats being destroyed or damaged and demand for them as pets or food.

Seventeen of the 25 most critically endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles on the IUCN's Red List are in Asia, according to TRAFFIC.

TRAFFIC said it sounded the alarm on the black spotted turtle because of the alarming rise in seizures in recent years and to call for tougher action by authorities.

It said, despite laws in place, people were rarely prosecuted when caught smuggling the turtles.

In rare cases of prosecution, one Thai man was sentenced to three months jail in Hong Kong and another man jailed for seven months in Taiwan.

Environmentalists on Saturday welcomed Deutsche Bank's reluctance to invest in a major port expansion near Australia's Great Barrier Reef, saying it reflected global concern about the project.

Australia gave the green light to the major coal port expansion for India's Adani Group at Abbot Point on the Great Barrier Reef coast last year subject to strict environmental conditions.

But conservationists slammed the approval, warning it would hasten the natural wonder's demise given it is under pressure from climate change, land-based pollution and crown-of-thorn starfish outbreaks.

At its annual general meeting in Europe on Friday, Deutsche Bank said its policy for dealing with activities in or near World Heritage Sites ruled it out of investing in Abbot Point.

"Deutsche Bank does not support activities when the government and UNESCO do not agree that the planned activities do not place the exceptional universal value of the site at risk," the bank said.

"As we have seen, there is currently no consensus between UNESCO and the Australian government regarding the expansion of Abbot Point in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef.

"Our policy requires such a consensus at the least. We therefore would not consider applications for the financing of an expansion any further."

UNESCO has stated concerns about coastal development proposed in the region including port and coal operations, with the body expected to discuss the issue at a meeting in June.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society, which is campaigning against the port expansion, welcomed Deutsche Bank's stance, which it said showed global concern about plans to "industrialise the coastline of the Great Barrier Reef".

"Financiers are now dropping off Abbot Point like flies -- signalling a growing unwillingness to be associated with the enormous financial and reputational risks that this project carries," said the society's Felicity Wishart.

"I mean, would you want your brand attached to the demise of one of the world's most precious natural icons -- The Great Barrier Reef?"

Approved plans for the Abbot Point expansion allow for the dredging and dumping of millions of tonnes of seabed in the reef's waters under strict environmental conditions.

Australia's Environment Minister Greg Hunt has said that getting the management and protection of the reef right was a top priority for the government.

Abbot Point port is considered crucial to the development of coal mines in Queensland's Galilee Basin, delivering one of the country's most important exports to Asian markets.


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