Turtles in Trouble: 11 Most Threatened Sea Turtle Populations in the World Identified

9/28/2011

Scientists produce new blueprint for conservation action, highlighting nesting sites in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh among most dangerous places for sea turtles; 12 healthiest populations also identified

 

Arlington, VA — Top sea turtle experts from around the globe announced the results of the first comprehensive status assessment of all sea turtle populations globally in a paper published this week in the online science journal, PLoS ONE. The study, designed to provide a blueprint for conservation and research, evaluated the state of individual populations of sea turtles and determined the 11 most threatened populations, as well as the 12 healthiest populations.

The report, produced by the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and supported by Conservation International (CI) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), was a collaboration of over 30 experts from 6 continents and more than 20 countries with diverse expertise in all aspects of sea turtle biology and conservation.

Four of the seven sea turtle species have populations among the world's 11 most threatened. Almost half (five) of these populations are found in the northern Indian Ocean, specifically on nesting beaches and in waters within Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of countries like India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Other areas that proved to be the most dangerous places for sea turtles were the East Pacific Ocean (from the U.S. to South America) and East Atlantic Ocean (off the coast of west Africa). 

"The report confirms that India is a home to many of the most threatened sea turtles in the world," said Dr. B. C. Choudhury, head of the Department of Endangered Species Management at the Wildlife Institute of India and a contributor to the study. "This paper is a wake-up call for the authorities to do more to protect India's sea turtles and their habitats to ensure that they survive."

The 11 Most Threatened Sea Turtle Populations
View a photo slideshow of these populations with maps of their ranges »

Olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) in the West Indian Ocean
Key nesting sites: India and Oman
Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Northeast Indian Ocean
Key nesting sites: Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar
Olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) arribada population in the Northeast Indian Ocean
Key nesting sites: India
Olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) in the Northeast Indian Ocean
Key nesting sites: India and Sri Lanka
Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the Northeast Indian Ocean
Key nesting sites: India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh
Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the East Atlantic Ocean
Key nesting sites: Congo and Sao Tome et Principe
Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Key nesting sites: Cape Verde
Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the East Pacific Ocean
Key nesting sites: El Salvador, Nicaragua; Ecuador
Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in the East Pacific Ocean
Key nesting sites: Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) in the North Pacific Ocean
Key nesting sites: Japan
Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the West Pacific Ocean
Key nesting sites: Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines

The study also highlighted the twelve healthiest sea turtle populations in the world, which are generally large populations with increasing trends under relatively low threats. Five species among these dozen healthy populations are found in nesting sites and feeding areas in Australia, Mexico, and Brazil. Other areas that harbor healthy turtle populations included the Southwest Indian Ocean, Micronesia and French Polynesia.

"Before we conducted this study, the best we could say about sea turtles was that six of the seven sea turtle species are threatened with extinction globally," said Dr. Bryan Wallace, Director of Science for the Marine Flagship Species Program at CI, and lead author for the paper. "But this wasn't very helpful for conservation because it didn't help us set priorities for different populations in different regions. Sea turtles everywhere are conservation-dependent, but this framework will help us effectively target our conservation efforts around the world."

The 12 Healthiest Sea Turtle Populations
View a photo slideshow of these populations with maps of their ranges »

Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Northwest Indian Ocean
Key nesting site: Oman
Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the Southeast Indian Ocean
Key nesting sites: Australia
Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate) in the Southeast Indian Ocean
Key nesting sites: Australia
Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the Southwest Indian Ocean
Key nesting sites: Seychelles, French and British Overseas Territories
Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in the Southeast Atlantic Ocean
Key nesting sites: Gabon
Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean
Key nesting sites: Brazil
Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Key nesting sites: Trinidad; Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname
Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the East Pacific Ocean
Key nesting sites: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and Mexico
Olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) arribada population in the East Pacific Ocean
Key nesting sites: Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the South Central Pacific Ocean
Key nesting sites: French Polynesia


Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the Southwest Pacific Ocean
Key nesting sites: Australia
Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the Southwest Pacific Ocean
Key nesting sites: Australia

The seven species of sea turtles comprise 58 biologically defined populations, called regional management units (RMUs). To determine the most threatened populations, the experts scored traits like population size, population trends, rookery vulnerability, and genetic diversity as well as threats of fisheries bycatch, human consumption of turtles and their eggs, coastal development, pollution and pathogens, and climate change for each RMU.

"We are excited by the clarity this new study provides by identifying areas around the world that are most important for sea turtle conservation," said Dr. Claude Gascon the Chief Science Officer and Executive Vice-President of NFWF. "This report is a guide for scientists, conservationists, policy makers, and funders to determine where conservation resources can be allocated to improve the status of these threatened populations."

The assessment also allows experts to identify key data gaps on population status and other factors, as well as the greatest threats to turtles. The most significant threats across all of the threatened populations are fisheries bycatch, the accidental catch of sea turtles by fishermen targeting other species, and direct harvest of turtles or their eggs for food or turtle shell material for commercial use.

"This assessment system provides a baseline status for all sea turtles from which we can gauge our progress on recovering these threatened populations in the future," explained Roderic Mast, Co-Chair of the MTSG, CI Vice President, and one of the paper's authors. "Through this process, we have learned a lot about what is working and what isn't in sea turtle conservation, so now we look forward to turning the lessons learned into sound conservation strategies for sea turtles and their habitats."

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Available content for media
(***Mandatory Image Credits Provided in Captions***)

Download photos of the 11 Most Threatened populations
http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/18937589_TMfnVL

Download photos of the 12 Healthiest Populations
http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/18937705_kMsmqp

Download video clips and b-roll via FTP

Learn more at: www.conservation.org/SeaTurtleSeptember


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Kevin Connor
Media Manager, Conservation International
office: +1-703-341-2504 / mobile: +1-571-223-0455 / kconnor@conservation.org  

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