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Panama gives sea turtles legal rights and protection

A new law has been set out to protect endangered sea turtles in Panama. The hope is that neighbouring countries will follow suit in granting them a right to a healthy environment that is free from poaching activity.

Panama has just taken ‘I like turtles’ to a whole new level.

The country has set out new laws to give its abundant sea turtle population the right to live and have free passage within a healthy environment.

Under the new legislation, all citizens in Panama are now allowed to ‘be the voice of sea turtles and defend them legally.’ This means governments, corporations, and citizens can be held legally accountable for violating the rights of sea turtles.

This is a huge win, as the South American nation is one of the world’s most vital nesting spots for leatherback and hawksbill turtles. Every year, as many as 3,000 hawksbill nests can be found on a single local beach.

Those working for organisations that protect sea turtles have high hopes that other countries will enforce a version of this new law to protect endangered sea turtles and other animals under threat.

Why was the new legislation necessary?

Sea turtle poaching in Panama became a serious issue during the pandemic, as the country relies heavily on tourism for its income.

Without a steady stream of money being brought in by visitors, citizens began poaching nesting turtles and harvesting their eggs from nearby beaches to earn additional income.

During this period, conservation groups reported that around 90 percent of leatherback eggs were taken from nests and later sold for their meat and shells. This activity was already illegal in Panama, however, the law had not been well enforced.

Based on current assessments, this kind of activity has continued at a rate higher than pre-pandemic levels despite the return of ecotourism in Panama.

To combat this, conservation groups began lobbying for stronger legal frameworks that offered clearer protection for the turtles, as well as increased monitoring mechanisms and harsher fines for breaching the law.

Under the new legislation, sea turtles have been granted rights to live within an environment free of pollution. It will also prevent dangerous human activity such as ‘climate change, incidental capture, coastal development, and unregulated tourism.’

This means it will hold accountable developers and tourism operators whose plans cause disruptions to sea turtle habitats. It also makes illegal any activity that seeks to earn profit from sea turtles, whether that be from their meat or their eggs.

Recognising the rights of animals, especially those living in ecosystems already under threat from climate change, is a key part of ensuring our natural world is protected.

Conservation groups based in Panama will now push for countries in the Caribbean, which are home to various species of sea turtles, to adopt similar legislation. Yes, Panama!