This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

Carolyn Davidson

Carolyn Davidson

Her Majesty’s Ambassador for Guatemala

Part of Illegal wildlife trade UK in Guatemala

24th October 2018 Guatemala City, Guatemala

Of turtles and (the illegal wildlife) trade

I spent last weekend on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, in the rain. Rain, however, is what you need if you want to see one of nature’s most amazing spectacles – a female turtle coming ashore in the blackness of the night to dig a hole in the sand and lay 40 – 60 eggs.

Your chances of seeing a turtle are much increased if it’s raining. We were lucky. We saw two. One was returning to the sea without laying any eggs, because of the light pollution on the beach. The other, an olive-ridley turtle, scrambled up the beach, dug a deep hole and laid only about 30 eggs. She then filled in the hole and performed an energetic dance, bashing her shell on the sand to compact it and keep the eggs safe. She needn’t have bothered, as no sooner had she laid them, than a tunnel had been dug into the nest and the eggs scooped out, so that they could be sold the next day to one of the conservation projects along the coast where turtle hatcheries exist.

While purists will complain, the chances of the eggs hatching on a busy stretch of beach near Monterrico are very very slim and passing the eggs on to the hatcheries means they have a much higher chance of survival. Over half a million eggs were rescued and incubated in Guatemala in 2017, up from 60,000 in 2003. Kept in hatcheries, around 95% will develop into hatchlings and make it back to the sea. After that their chances of survival are much slimmer, but the more hatchlings there are, the greater the chance of more turtles in the oceans.

Many of those doing the rescuing or providing the financial support for these efforts are hotels and home-owners on the coast. They recognise the value not just of preserving marine bio-diversity but also of offering something which few other places can – the chance to witness as I did last weekend something incredibly special. Of course, there is a tension between encouraging tourism and preserving spaces for nature, but it is possible and the work of CONAP ( and groups like ARCAS ( on the Pacific coast have made a quantum difference.

A map of the circle of life for sea turtles

Fifty years ago turtles were sought after for their shells, to make brooches, bangles etc. Today the numbers of people who would want to wear a turtle on their jacket rather than see it swimming freely in the sea are greatly reduced. Attitudes change. That is why in London last week the UK hosted the fourth International Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade. Across the globe countries, individuals, governments are recognising that the illegal wildlife trade represents a multi-faceted threat to us all. Trade in endangered species is causing unimaginable damage. Between 2004 and 2015, some 7,000 different species of birds and mammals were found in 164,000 seizures across 120 countries. Here in Guatemala, jaguars, howler monkeys and scarlet macaws, as well as turtles, are just some of the country’s emblematic species at risk, depriving future generations of vital biodiversity, which keeps our eco-systems functioning.

Nevertheless, worst of all, the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) feeds an international network of crime and exploitation, destroying the lives not just of animals, but of humans as well. IWT is worth up to £17 billion every year and is one of the most lucrative forms of organised crime.

The Duke of Cambridge speaking at the IWT Conference held in London

2100 people from over 70 countries, including Guatemala, attended Last week’s conference in London. The conference aimed to strengthen international efforts to tackle IWT by building coalitions, closing markets and tackling IWT as a serious organised crime. I am delighted that Guatemala was there, ably represented by CONAP.  All those present signed up to a declaration committing to take forward work to tackle IWT (

The UK has worked closely with Guatemala in recent years in protecting natural habitats (a UK Space Agency project in the Mayan Biosphere to tackle illegal logging) and tackling illegal wildlife trafficking (helping set up the first environmental court in Izabal to pursue those found trading in endangered and at risk species). We look forward to doing more together and to helping protect Guatemala’s rich biodiversity.

2 comments on “Of turtles and (the illegal wildlife) trade

  1. Thank you for the article and such an amazing work that you do every day. Nature is very important and we people should take care of it. I saw that people from houses in St Kitts and Nevis are doig the same when taking care of turtles and other local animals.

    1. Thanks for your comments Helen. I wholeheartedly agree. The recent WWF report about the devastating impact we are having on species across the globe is a timely reminder that we need to act now, and tackling the illegal wildlife trade is a crucial part of that.

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About Carolyn Davidson

Ms Davidson joined the FCO in 1986 and has served in Honduras (based in Guatemala City) Tokyo, Brussels, Bonn, Bangkok and Bratislava. She was joint British High Commissioner to Zambia,…

Ms Davidson joined the FCO in 1986 and has served in Honduras (based in Guatemala City) Tokyo, Brussels, Bonn, Bangkok and Bratislava. She was joint British High Commissioner to Zambia, with her husband Tom Carter, from 2008 – 2012 and has previously led on international energy issues in the FCO.