China has one of the world's most diverse freshwater turtle faunas but is also a major consumer of freshwater turtles. In the 1980s over-collecting, illegal trade and habitat destruction increased dramatically, pushing almost all Chinese turtles towards extinction. Despite the critical status of Chinese turtles little has been done to quantify and evaluate the impact of illegal activities on wild populations. We used a combination of market surveys and questionnaires to examine the illegal trade and conservation status of native freshwater turtles in Nanmao, Hainan Province, from February to August 2003. We found a total of 245 collected freshwater turtles comprising eight species. These data indicate that Nanmao has a rich freshwater turtle fauna that is being affected heavily by illegal poaching. No effective measures have been taken to protect the few remaining wild turtle populations. The main factors that lead to illegal trade include the cultural belief that turtles are a viable food/medicine product, lack of conservation awareness, poaching of turtles as a supplement to income, and poor law enforcement. Possible conservation strategies are discussed.