Year

2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security

Abstract

This thesis is an evaluation of the international, regional and domestic legal instruments for conserving and managing Pacific sea turtles through habitat protection and the regulation of bycatch and harvest. States are obliged to protect threatened wildlife such as turtles under a number of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). An integrated and harmonised legal framework for protecting sea turtles is needed to provide states with the minimum legal standards for conservation and management. In the South Pacific, there is also no formalised regional arrangement that focuses on Pacific sea turtles. Regional cooperation is a priority for conserving Pacific turtles and there is the prospect for the development of a regional sea turtle agreement. In 2003, the Bellagio Blueprint for Action on Sea Turtles (hereafter, Bellagio Blueprint) was developed by 25 leading experts from leading institutions in the Pacific as a guideline on measures required for the conservation of Pacific sea turtles. The priority areas listed under the Bellagio Blueprint (bycatch minimisation, harvest limits, habitat protection and regional cooperation) provide distinct criteria for examining existing legal measures. A comparison of the different compliance regimes in the two case studies (Australia [Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Queensland)] and Fiji), provide additional perspectives on developing and developed states in the regional governance framework.

There are a number of principles and specific obligations under various MEAs which can address priority areas in the Bellagio Blueprint. These international obligations may be implemented at regional or national levels in the context of turtles through their regulatory frameworks. This study reveals several gaps within the regulatory framework at all three levels that provide justification for a formalised South Pacific regional cooperation arrangement. The evaluation of the regional and national regulatory frameworks also revealed gaps similar to those found in the international framework. Areas for improvement include traditional turtle fisheries management and bycatch in coastal fisheries. Australia showed greater compliance with general obligations or principles in international law in the context of turtles compared with Fiji, but both states could improve their levels of compliance. A regional arrangement is needed for states to protect Pacific sea turtles in compliance with all applicable principles and specific obligations under international law. This is because regional cooperation can address identified gaps. A regional arrangement can also improve integration and harmonisation of measures among states. Formalised regional arrangements need to be supported within the regional governance framework due to existing policies for cooperation that integrate regional priorities, such as sustainable development. Turtles need to be conserved in the South Pacific to maintain ecological and traditional sustainability.

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