On the first day of the 26th annual Sea Turtle Symposium, marine conservationists from around the world are gathering in regional meetings to discuss sea turtle conservation issues specific to the Mediterranean, Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.
Their discussions of top regional priorities intersect with the Burning Issues Assessment recently prepared by the Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG), part of the World Conservation Unions (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC). The Burning Issues Assessment is a prioritization of the most threatened sea turtle populations in the world and the five global hazards that cause their demise. Categorized by the geographical areas in which they nest, the most threatened sea turtles in the world are:
- Leatherbacks in the Pacific. Major populations in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Malaysia have declined more than 90 percent in fewer than 20 years.
- Olive Ridleys in Orissa, India. A minimum of 10,000 adults has been killed each year for the past 10 years.
- Kemps Ridleys throughout their range in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic. Their small population size has declined more than 95 percent in less than 50 years, and they live within a limited range.
- Loggerheads in the Pacific. Nesting in the Pacific (principally Japan and Australia) has declined by more than 90 percent over the past 25 years.
- Green turtles in the Mediterranean. In the major rookeries, located in Turkey, populations have declined by 6090 percent in 17 years.
- All sea turtles in Southeast Asia. Hawksbills, green turtles, and olive Ridleys have all suffered substantial declines in nesting in this region.
- Loggerheads in the Atlantic. At the major rookery at Archie Carr Refuge in Florida, U.S.A., nesting has declined by more than 50 percent in the past five years.
- Hawksbill and green turtles in the Caribbean. Green turtles have declined by more than 95 percent in the past 400 years. The loss of a number of rookeries has significantly reduced genetic diversity of green, and current take of adult green turtles is greater than 11,000 per year in Nicaragua. Hawksbill nesting has declined by more than 60 percent at the largest rookery, located in Mexico, in the past five years.
- Green and leatherbacks in the eastern Atlantic and their southwest Atlantic foraging grounds. Globally significant nesting and foraging populations are virtually unstudied and threatened by substantial take because of extreme local poverty. Leatherbacks from Atlantic African nesting beaches also face great pressure from fisheries off the coasts of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.
- Hawksbills in the Indian Ocean. Trade statistics going back more than 100 years indicate massive declines of up to 95 percent in hawksbill populations, specifically in Madagascar, Seychelles, and Sri Lanka.
Six of the seven species of sea turtles are listed on the IUCNs Red List of Threatened Species as either Endangered or Critically Endangered; the seventh, the flatback sea turtle, is listed as Data Deficient. The MTSG Burning Issues Assessment goes a step further than the global-scale Red List by encouraging on-the-ground conservation action in the places where experts agree it is most urgent and can have the largest impact in preventing extinctions.
The Assessment also identifies five broad hazards that are presently resulting in declines and local extinctions of sea turtles, or are in one way or another slowing or preventing sea turtle recovery. These hazards are:
- Fisheries Impacts: Sea turtles virtually everywhere are impacted by fisheriesespecially by longlines, gill nets and trawls. The most severe of these impacts are bycatch mortality, habitat destruction and disruptions to the food web.
- Coastal Development: Sea turtle habitats are degraded and destroyed by coastal development. This includes both shoreline and seafloor alterations, such as nesting beach degradation, seafloor dredging, vessel traffic, construction and alteration of vegetation.
- Directed Take: Sea turtles and their eggs are killed or taken by people throughout the world for food and for products including oil, leather and shell.
- Pollution and Pathogens: Marine pollution, including plastics, discarded fishing gear, petroleum by-products, and other debris directly impact sea turtles through ingestion and entanglement. Light pollution disrupts nesting behavior and hatchling orientation, leading to hatchling mortality. Chemical pollutants can weaken sea turtles immune systems, making them susceptible to pathogens.
- Global Warming: Global warming may impact natural frequency of extreme weather events, and raise the turtles. It will result in loss of nesting beaches and habitats and basic oceanographic processes.
For daily updates from the Sea Turtle Symposium this week, visit the official blog at www.conservation.org
A complete report of the Burning Issues Assessment is available on request.
Photos and video footage are available on request.