The Issue

Pink and red coral for sale at a market

Our investigations revealed

Dominican Republic (March 2006)

  • 50,000 marine turtle products available for sale in 249 shops.
  • Over 95 percent of the businesses surveyed in Santa Domingo, traded in marine turtle products, mostly jewelry and decorative products.

Success Story:Turtles No Longer Turn to Souvenirs in the Dominican Republic

Colombia (March 2006)

  • Hawksbill turtle shell products were available in 60 shops in three coastal cities surveyed.
  • Roadside vendors were also selling marine turtle eggs.

Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico (May 2007)

  • Wildlife products were available in half of the 500 stores visited in seven port areas of the Yucatan Peninsula.
  • Many products for sale were imported from Asia such as red and pink, corals, abalone and a wide variety of other shells.
  • Queen conch and black coral were widely available. Tourists may be required to obtain special permits for these souvenirs from the country of purchase before they are allowed in their home country.

Learn more by reading Cruising with a Conscience

Success Story: Turtles No Longer Turn to Souvenirs in Dominican Republic

The Mesoamerican Reef is a rich tapestry of reefs and atolls, sea grass pastures and mangrove forests that stretches across nearly 115 million acres from the northern end of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico to the Caribbean coasts of Belize and Guatemala, to the Bay Islands in northern Honduras.

School of fishThis is the most important barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in the world. It provides shelter for fascinating species such as the mammoth whale shark and the endangered salt water crocodile. It is also home to one of the world’s largest populations of manatees. This underwater paradise has no less than 65 different kinds of stony coral and more than 500 types of fish. Grouper, snapper and spiny lobster are even featured on restaurant menus. On land, the reef’s watershed extends its web of life to include jaguars, howler monkeys and birds like the quetzal.

Travel with WWF to see this jewel for yourself


What we found

Tourists, traders and the tourism industry are largely unaware of complex regulations on international trade. Tourists don’t think twice about buying wildlife like Mexican parrots and products made from turtles, iguanas and coral which are protected by domestic or international laws. Shop keepers seemed unaware that some of the wildlife products on sale required export permits or may be illegal to take back to the United States or Europe. There have been reports of wildlife smugglers posing as cruise tourists, using the anonymity of mass tourism to poach rare species.

In several market surveys, TRAFFIC found thousands of marine turtle products for sale in ports and markets throughout the Caribbean including hawksbill turtle shell products, despite the fact that this species is critically endangered and protected under domestic and international laws.