A conservation tool nearly two years in the making, the inaugural State of the World's Sea Turtles (SWoT) Report debuted today at the 26th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Conservation and Biology, taking place this week on the Greek island of Crete. The report is born of a new and growing network of partners and is designed to satisfy the critical need for a single, trusted source of global sea turtle data.
"Our intent is to pursue not just a single snapshot of the status of the world's sea turtles, but a permanent, annually updated tool for monitoring our success and setting priorities for conservation work worldwide," says Conservation International (CI) Vice President Roderic B. Mast, head of CI's Sea Turtle Flagship Program and key liaison to the SWoT team.
Why SWoT? And What Is It?
Bound by a single mission to annually describe the status of sea turtles worldwide, the SWoT team comprises representatives of Duke University's Marine Geospatial Ecology Laboratory, the International Sea Turtle Society, the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, Conservation International, and various individuals. It is a collection of approximately 160 volunteer scientists and conservationists seeking to leverage existing resources, unite conservation efforts, pool and synthesize data, and in general, help put the international sea turtle conservation movement on the fast track to success.
"Many excellent local
- and regional-scale data sets and sea turtle conservation programs exist," says Mast. "We aim to weave these successes and the data they generate into a broader whole, to begin looking at sea turtle conservation from a planet-wide perspective
Members of the SWoT team often separated by thousands of miles or linguistic and cultural differences are charged with developing a current, dynamic, geo-referenced database on sea turtles of all species and life stages. Until now, no such "big picture" data compilation existed.
"This has been an enormous disadvantage for conservation planners, government bodies, and the sea turtle conservation movement itself," says Mast. "On a global level, there is an urgent need to know the status of all sea turtles so that we can effectively prioritize our actions."
A First in Leatherback Data
The centerpiece of the team's new report is a map the newest and most comprehensive representation of global nesting data for leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtles. In their first year of data collecting, SWoT scientists documented and compiled data from 203 leatherback nesting sites in 46 countries. Nesting data from the last complete nesting season (2004) were made available for 89 of these sites. SWoT team members standardized the data sets some of which had never been published to help ensure some degree of uniformity and present the plight of leatherbacks as accurately as possible.
The map, and its interactive online counterpart, illustrates the estimated number of nesting females in 2004 for those 89 sites data that help form global population estimates, including comments from data providers on the ground, beach names and lengths, nest counts, and descriptions of monitoring practices. In some instances, false crawl rates or the number of times female leatherbacks emerge onto a beach but do not nest also are available.
Print Features and Online Extras
Some of the sea turtle conservation movement's most prominent figures are bylined in volume one of the SWoT Report. Covering a range of topics from habitat issues and public awareness to policy and economics the report features several standout commentaries. Among them are discussions of genetically defining populations of leatherbacks, an introduction to the top ten most threatened sea turtle populations, a look at new and safer fishing technologies, and a profile of sea turtle conservation efforts in Costa Rica.
Online at www.seaturtlestatus.org
, sea turtle conservationists and enthusiasts can find an Outreach Toolkit of downloadable resources for organizing grassroots awareness campaigns. The site is also a source for sea turtle news and SWoT activities, as well as an interactive version of the SWoT Report's centerfold map.
"The time is right to focus vast and valuable resources on a global vision to prevent the extinction of sea turtles and the degradation of their habitats," says Mast. "We hope others will join our growing SWoT team as we pursue our pledge of permitting 'no sea turtle extinctions on our watch.'"