Sea turtles are in peril. Extraordinarily adaptable throughout the ages, they have persisted for more than 100 million years through global environmental shifts that brought contemporary species to extinction. In recent times, however, sea turtle populations have declined dramatically, and some species brush dangerously close to extinction. Unless the situation of sea turtles is redressed immediately, their demise will be the tragic and direct result of human activity.
This week at the 26th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Conservation and Biology, held on the island of Crete in Greece, CI joins hundreds of leading marine scientists and conservationists to discuss the state of the world's sea turtles and efforts currently under way to save them. CI marine scientists and communicators are promoting two key messages: The same hazards that threaten sea turtles imperil all marine species and ecosystems. Because these hazards are manmade, effective conservation efforts must engage communities and focus on changing human behavior.
Ambassadors of the Sea
The impacts of fisheries, coastal development, climate change, hunting, and pollution threaten all sea turtles indeed all ocean wildlife and have driven six of the seven species to Endangered or Critically Endangered status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. From habitat and nesting beach destruction, to incidental capture or illegal hunting and trade, the plight of sea turtles illustrates the much larger-scale damage Earth's oceans are enduring as a result of unsustainable human activity.
"Much like pandas and tigers have drawn interest to terrestrial habitat conservation, sea turtles can focus needed attention on ocean environmental issues," says Mast. "They are charismatic flagships for communicating the broad and often complex concepts of marine conservation to the public."
The Most Threatened
The Mediterranean Sea, backdrop to this year's symposium, is home to one of the most threatened sea turtle populations on Earth. Certain green turtle (Chelonia mydas) populations in the region have experienced a 60 percent to 90 percent decline in just 17 years due to the compounding impacts of coastal development, fishing, and hunting. The Mediterranean population of green turtles is one of ten recently identified by CI and the World Conservation Union Species Survival Commission (IUCN-SSC) Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) to be in the direst need of immediate conservation action.
A "top ten" list of most threatened populations has been devised to help prevent immediate extinctions and focus international conservation efforts on priority regions. Categorized geographically based on nesting areas, the list intersects with the regional priorities set forth in the symposiums agenda, including the Mediterranean, Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean.
The Global Agenda
Now in its 26th year, the Symposium on Sea Turtle Conservation and Biology is just one way the international community is trying to unite local and regional efforts and approach sea turtle conservation from a global perspective. The conservation strategies that evolve from this effort will not only help halt and reverse the decline of sea turtle populations worldwide, but also lay the foundation for ocean-wide biodiversity preservation.
"Protecting the habitats of sea turtles is equivalent to protecting the habitats of thousands of species," says Dr. Sylvia Earle
, the executive director for CI's Global Marine division. "That includes whales, sharks, seabirds, sea flora even humans."