Inter-American Convention (IAC) for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles
Photo: Andy Bruckner, NOAA
Photo: Michelle T. Scharer
Kemp's Ridley Turtle
Photo: Kim Bassos-Hull,
Mote Marine Laboratory
Photo: Scott R. Benson, NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center
Photo: Marco Giuliano/ Fondazione Cetacea
Olive ridley turtle
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 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 consideration of the environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural characteristics of the Parties.
Six sea turtle species are protected under the IAC:
- Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
- Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
- Kemp's ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)
- Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
- Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
- Olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)
The 15 Contracting Parties to the IAC are:
- Costa Rica
- Netherlands (Antilles)
- United States
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)
- 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 and their flagged vessels, encompassing the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, including the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
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 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, making any trade in turtles and turtle parts illegal
- Red List of the IUCN, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
History and Role of the IAC
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 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 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
- reducing sea turtle bycatch in fisheries
- monitoring Parties compliance with the Convention and its resolutions, including "exceptions" for traditional, economic subsistence of coastal communities
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:
- UN 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
- Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol
- Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (known as the Cartagena Convention)
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, also enjoy full collaboration with the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) 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.
- Text of the IAC
- IAC Website
- Sea Turtles
- International Conservation of Marine Turtles
- Indian Ocean South-East Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding
- U.N. Convention on Migratory Species
Updated: June 16, 2014