Global Conservation Priorities for Marine Turtles

This study is the first comprehensive status assessment of all sea turtle populations globally. Designed to provide a blueprint for conservation and research, it evaluated the state of individual populations of sea turtles and determined the 11 most threatened populations, as well as the 12 healthiest populations.

It was 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), as 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 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.

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Where conservation resources are limited and conservation targets are diverse, robust yet flexible priority-setting frameworks are vital. Priority-setting is especially important for geographically widespread species with distinct populations subject to multiple threats that operate on different spatial and temporal scales. Marine turtles are widely distributed and exhibit intra-specific variations in population sizes and trends, as well as reproduction and morphology. However, current global extinction risk assessment frameworks do not assess conservation status of spatially and biologically distinct marine turtle Regional Management Units (RMUs), and thus do not capture variations in population trends, impacts of threats, or necessary conservation actions across individual populations. To address this issue, we developed a new assessment framework that allowed us to evaluate, compare and organize marine turtle RMUs according to status and threats criteria. Because conservation priorities can vary widely (i.e. from avoiding imminent extinction to maintaining long-term monitoring efforts) we developed a "conservation priorities portfolio" system using categories of paired risk and threats scores for all RMUs (n=58). We performed these assessments and rankings globally, by species, by ocean basin, and by recognized geopolitical bodies to identify patterns in risk, threats, and data gaps at different scales. This process resulted in characterization of risk and threats to all marine turtle RMUs, including identification of the world’s 11 most endangered marine turtle RMUs based on highest risk and threats scores. This system also highlighted important gaps in available information that is crucial for accurate conservation assessments. Overall, this priority-setting framework can provide guidance for research and conservation priorities at multiple relevant scales, and should serve as a model for conservation status assessments and prioritysetting for widespread, long-lived taxa.

Citation: Wallace BP, DiMatteo AD, Bolten AB, Chaloupka MY, Hutchinson BJ, et al. (2011) Global Conservation Priorities for Marine Turtles. PLoS ONE 6(9): e24510. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024510



Indian Ocean; India; Sri Lanka; Bangladesh; Mexico; Brazil; Australia IUCN; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation   Marine; Turtles