Experts Identify World’s Most Threatened Sea Turtle Populations

IUCN 29 Sep 11;

Top sea turtle experts from around the globe have discovered that almost half (45%) of the world’s threatened sea turtle populations are found in the northern Indian Ocean. The study also determined that the most significant threats across all of the threatened populations of sea turtles are fisheries bycatch, accidental catches of sea turtles by fishermen targeting other species, and the direct harvest of turtles or their eggs for food or turtle shell material for commercial use.

The recent report, produced by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) and supported by Conservation International (CI) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), is the first comprehensive status assessment of all sea turtle populations globally. 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.

“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.”

Five of the world’s 11 most threatened species of sea turtles are found in the northern Indian Ocean, specifically threatened populations of both Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta) and Olive Ridley Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) are found in the northern Indian Ocean in waters and on nesting beaches within Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of countries such as 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 USA to South America) and East Atlantic Ocean (off the coast of western 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 study also highlighted the 12 healthiest sea turtle populations in the world, which are large and currently populations facing relatively low threats. Five species, such as the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) have populations among these dozen thriving habitats which include nesting sites and feeding areas in Australia, Mexico and Brazil. Other areas that harbor healthy turtle populations include 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.”

Map of the 11 most Threatened Sea Turtle Populations 2.81MB
Map of The 12 Healthiest Sea Turtle Populations 2.90MB

Global Conservation Priorities for Marine Turtles
ScienceDaily 28 Sep 11;

Marine turtles worldwide are vulnerable and endangered, but their long lives and broad distribution make it difficult for scientists to accurately determine the threat level to different populations and devise appropriate conservation strategies. To address this concern, researchers have developed a new method to evaluate spatially and biologically distinct groups of marine turtles, called Regional Management Units, or RMUs, to identify threats and data gaps at different scales.

The results are reported September 28 in the online journal PLoS ONE. In their analysis, the researchers identified 11 out of the 58 worldwide turtle RMUs that are most at risk. Of these 11, five reside in the Indian Ocean, four in the Pacific, and two in the Atlantic. Populations of four of the seven total species of marine turtle are included in this most threatened group.

The researchers suggest that these results should be used to help set conservation priorities. Furthermore, this approach is flexible and can also be used to assess other widely distributed taxa to generate a portfolio of conservation priorities that reflect the diversity of conservation needs associated with variation among different populations of a single species.

Journal Reference:

Bryan P. Wallace, Andrew D. DiMatteo, Alan B. Bolten, Milani Y. Chaloupka, Brian J. Hutchinson, F. Alberto Abreu-Grobois, Jeanne A. Mortimer, Jeffrey A. Seminoff, Diego Amorocho, Karen A. Bjorndal, Jérôme Bourjea, Brian W. Bowen, Raquel Briseño Dueñas, Paolo Casale, B. C. Choudhury, Alice Costa, Peter H. Dutton, Alejandro Fallabrino, Elena M. Finkbeiner, Alexandre Girard, Marc Girondot, Mark Hamann, Brendan J. Hurley, Milagros López-Mendilaharsu, Maria Angela Marcovaldi, John A. Musick, Ronel Nel, Nicolas J. Pilcher, Sebastian Troëng, Blair Witherington, Roderic B. Mast. Global Conservation Priorities for Marine Turtles. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (9): e24510 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024510

South Asia most dangerous for sea turtles: study
(AFP) Google News 30 Sep 11;

MANILA — The waters around India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are home to the world's most endangered sea turtles, according to a study released Thursday aimed at setting a blueprint for global conservation.

While it was well known that almost all sea turtle species face extinction, the study by 30 scientists was the first to identify specific populations around the world that were most at threat, Conservational International said.

It identified the 11 most threatened populations around the globe, five of which were on the beaches or in the exclusive economic zones of Indian Ocean countries India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Asia in general was found to be a particularly dangerous region for sea turtles, with Japan, Myanmar, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia also named as having some of the most threatened populations.

In contrast, the study found the healthiest sea turtle populations in Australia, the South Pacific and Latin American countries including Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil.

The main threats for sea turtles, stunning creatures that have been in existence for at least 110 million years, are getting caught in the nets and long lines of the commercial fishing industry, the study said.

Other major threats are the gathering of turtle eggs and the eating of their meat by local communities. Coastal development, shipping and increasingly climate change are also endangering these populations, the study found.

Scientists involved in the study said it would play an important role in mapping out conservation plans for the must vulnerable sea turtles.

"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 Claude Gascon, chief science officer at the US-based National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

"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."

Conservation International scientist Bryan Wallace emphasised in a blog that strong conservation efforts had proved to be successful, offering hope for the future.

He cited the example of green and olive ridley sea turtles -- once widely harvested particularly in Mexico for their eggs and meat -- but which now have some of the world's healthiest sea turtle populations.

This was credited to a 1990 ban imposed -- and strictly enforced -- on the consumption of such sea turtle products, Wallace said in the blog.