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Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC)

  green turtle underwater
Green Turtle
(Chelonia mydas)
Photo: Douglas Shea This link is an external site.

hawksbill turtle underwater
Hawksbill Turtle
(Eretmochelys imbricata)
Photo: Michelle T. Scharer

kemp's ridley turtle hatchling in water
Kemp's Ridley Turtle
(Lepidochelys kempii)
Photo: Kim Bassos-Hull,
Mote Marine Laboratory

leatherback turtle at water's surface
Leatherback turtle
(Dermochelys coriacea)
Photo: Scott R. Benson, NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center

loggerhead turtle underwater
Loggerhead turtle
(Caretta caretta)
Photo: Marco Giuliano/ Fondazione Cetacea

olive ridley turtle underwater
Olive ridley turtle
(Lepidochelys olivacea)
Photo: Michael P. Jensen

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 entered into force in May 2001.

The Convention promotes the protection, conservation and recovery of sea turtles and those habitats on which they depend, on the basis of the best available data and taking into consideration the environmental, socioeconomic and cultural characteristics of the Parties.

Six sea turtle species are protected under the IAC:

  1. Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
  2. Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
  3. Kemp's ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)
  4. Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
  5. Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
  6. Olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)

The 15 Contracting Parties to the IAC are:

  1. Argentina
  2. Belize
  3. Brazil
  4. Costa Rica
  5. Ecuador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Honduras
  8. Mexico
  9. Netherlands (Antilles)
  10. Nicaragua
  11. Panama
  12. Peru
  13. United States
  14. Uruguay
  15. Venezuela

The Convention represents a binding commitment by these parties to implement domestic measures to reduce threats to sea turtles. These measures include:

  • prohibition of deliberate take of sea turtles or their eggs
  • compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES This link is an external site.)
  • implemention of appropriate fishing practices and gear technology to reduce incidental take (bycatch) of turtles in all relevant fisheries
  • use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on shrimp trawl vessels
  • designation of protected areas for critical turtle habitat
  • restriction of human activities that could harm turtles
  • promotion of sea turtle research and education

The treaty applies to all territorial waters of the contracting parties, encompassing the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, including the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

Meetings of the Contracting Parties


Marine turtle conservation is critical from a biodiversity standpoint. 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, the only herbivorous marine turtle, transfer nutrients from nutrient-rich areas like sea grass beds to nutrient-poor ecosystems like nesting beaches.

In light of their importance and rapidly declining populations, all 6 species of sea turtle are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act as either "threatened" or "endangered" (some species are listed differently in different areas of their range- see the specific turtle species websites for details). However, sea turtles are highly migratory species and no single country can adequately protect them alone.

International collaboration is critical to conserving and protecting these creatures. In light of this, sea turtles are given protection at the international level. All 6 species are listed on:

  • Appendix I of CITES, the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES This link is an external site.), making any trade in turtles and turtle parts illegal
  • Red List of the IUCN, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN This link is an external site.) as either Vulnerable (olive ridley), Endangered (loggerhead, green), or Critically Endangered (Kemp's ridley, hawksbill, leatherback).

History and Role of the IAC

In order to increase international cooperation on sea turtle protection, governments of the western hemisphere created the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC) to cooperatively address and manage the threats facing regional sea turtle populations.

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 Secretariat is currently located at the Fundación de Parques Nacionales in San José, Costa Rica but is transitioning to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Arlington, Virginia. In addition to the Secretariat, the IAC created 2 subsidiary bodies:

  1. Scientific Committee makes scientific recommendations to the Parties and analyzes research pertaining to sea turtle biology and population dynamics
  2. Consultative Committee reviews reports from the Scientific Committee and member states in order to recommend conservation and management activities to the Parties and analyze the effectiveness of measures already in place

The Convention operates through biennial Conferences of the Parties, during which member states discuss ongoing--and propose new--collaborative measures to protect and conserve sea turtles. Among the measures encouraged by the Convention are:

  • capacity building and technology transfer to less developed parties
  • educating the public about sea turtle conservation
  • developing joint research programs
  • cooperating with relevant international organizations
  • implementing observer programs to monitor the implementation of the treaty

Member states are required to report annually on their activities supporting the convention.

Other International Environmental Agreements

While the IAC is a stand-alone legal instrument, it works in a complementary fashion with many other international environmental agreements.

Chief among these is the UN's Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (also known as the CMS or Bonn Convention), which lists all western hemisphere marine turtle species in both Appendices I and II of the Convention and encourages collaboration at the regional level.

In the same vein, the Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW This link is an external site.) to the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (known as the Cartagena Convention) is also complementary to the IAC. All six species of Caribbean sea turtle are listed in Annex II of the SPAW Protocol. The Cartagena Convention and SPAW Protocol, supported by the UNEP Caribbean Environmental Programme This link is an external site., also enjoy full collaboration with the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST This link is an external site.) and are of great importance in working with the IAC to achieve its goal of better protecting marine turtles.

The success of the IAC is also incumbent upon participation from a wide range of actors, including the academic community, non-governmental organizations, local stakeholders, and all levels of government and civil society.

More Information

Updated: April 2, 2013

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