Marine turtles are important, not only for their economic and intrinsic value, but because the presence of an adequate population of marine turtles is often an indicator of healthy marine ecosystem (Perrine 2003).
Of the seven species of marine turtles, four are classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as critically endangered, while two are in the next highest risk category (IUCN 2002).
The marine turtles' status in Asia is of interest for two reasons. First, human activity in the region presents a wide variety of threats, including excessive and illegal harvesting for meat, shells, skin and eggs; habitat loss from development of beaches; destructive fishing methods such as dynamite fishing and use of drift nets; and pollution from shipping and tourism. Many of these threats are increasing rapidly with economic growth (IUCN 2002; Safina 2006). Second, marine turtles are a migratory species; their habitat is shared among a large number of countries such as China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Coordinated policies to conserve marine turtles are thus more likely to be effective than those pursued by countries on their own. There is evidence of willingness of countries in East and Southeast Asia to collaborate but so far the measures taken have not been adequate to the challenge. (1)
This paper reports the results of a comparative research project carried out in China, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. It explored the prospects for increased regional or national efforts to conserve marine turtles in Asia; whether Asians value turtles more for their use as food, shells, etc., than for non-use values; whether Asians are aware of marine turtles and their plight; and whether there is sufficient local willingness to pay to support larger conservation efforts.
Using a common survey instrument, we applied the contingent valuation method (CVM) to assess the willingness of local populations to pay for the conservation of marine turtles. We estimated local willingness to pay and explored how a variety of payment vehicles affected people's decisions to support national and regional conservation plans. The survey instrument included an extensive set of attitudinal questions that allowed us to assess the relationship between respondents' attitudes, socioeconomic characteristics, and willingness to pay.
The surveys were administered by dropping off questionnaires at people's residences, using similar procedures and protocols in each study country. Altogether 3,680 respondents participated in the survey; these were randomly selected spreading across all administrative districts in Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bangkok and Davao City. The most populous of these cities is Beijing with over 15 million people; the smallest is Davao City in the Philippines, with about 1 million. Average annual per capita income ranges from US$540 for Ho Chi Minh City/ Hanoi to US$2,490 for Bangkok. There are also variations in culture and familiarity with the uses of marine turtles.
II. Attitudes towards Environment, Wildlife and Marine Turtles
We asked respondents to rank ten public policy issues: economic problems, poverty, education, health, crime/violence/inequality, government/ good governance, infrastructure, environment, terrorism, and relations with other countries. The survey revealed that people in all four countries accord relatively low priority to environmental protection. Only in Beijing does it appear among people's top three concerns. (See Table 1.) While environmental concerns do not feature as priority concerns, over 70 per cent of the respondents in all four countries agree that environmental problems are not properly taken care of.
Among environmental issues, we assessed how strongly people feel about the protection of wildlife. Respondents were asked to rank nine environmental issues: air pollution, water pollution, solid waste, loss of endangered species, deforestation, traffic congestion, soil erosion, global warming, and destruction of coral reefs. …