11 Most Threatened Sea Turtle Populations Identified


Hawksbill turtles identified in: "Turtles in Trouble: 11 Most Threatened Sea Turtle Populations" © Jeff Yonover

A new study was recently released and published in PLoS ONE that illustrates the current status of sea turtle populations around the globe and identifies the species most at risk. It is the first comprehensive status assessment, and with it we can better understand where conservation efforts will be most effective.
Given the massive numbers of olive ridleys that nest in a few places in India each year, it might seem hard to believe that these olive ridleys are among the most endangered populations in the world. However, due to extremely intense pressures from trawl bycatch and consumption of turtle eggs and meat, the seemingly abundant ridleys have declined dramatically region-wide. © M. Muralidharan

We know sea turtles are in serious trouble around the world. Caught as bycatch by fishing boats, poached for their meat, their eggs gathered up and sold, marine pollution and so many more threats plague these gentle animals. However, exactly what is the status of different turtle populations globally and where can conservation efforts be concentrated? A new study by 30 experts in more than 20 countries details answers to these questions.

There are seven species of sea turtles around the world -- six of which are threatened with extinction -- which form 58 separate populations. Each of these populations are important as they're biologically distinct. The problem with practically all turtles under threat is that conservation efforts can be scattered or concentrated in areas that maybe don't need help as much as others. This study looked at all the populations and set up something of a priority list.


North Pacific loggerheads nest exclusively in Japan and forage across the Pacific Basin. This endangered population is currently most threatened by severe bycatch in Mexico and Japan as well as coastal development in Japan. © Wallace J. Nichols

The most at-risk turtle populations include Olive ridley turtles in the West Indian Ocean and Northeast Indian Ocean; Loggerhead turtles in the Northeast Indian Ocean, Northeast Atlantic Ocean and North Pacific Ocean, and West Pacific Ocean; and Hawksbill turtles in the Northeast Indian Ocean, East Atlantic Ocean, East Pacific Ocean, and West Pacific Ocean.


© Conservation International for "Turtles in Trouble: 11 Most Threatened Sea Turtle Populations in the World Identified"

According to the report, almost half of these threatened populations are found on nesting beaches within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of countries like India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

"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."


This poorly studied, small population nests at only a few sites scattered along the West African coast. It is also under severe threat from coastal net bycatch and consumption of eggs and meat, as well as exploitation of shell material for handicrafts and jewlery. © Jacques Fretey

As mentioned, turtles face many threats, not the least of which is being caught up in nets as bycatch. In fact, a report released in September detailed that over 4,600 sea turtles are currently killed each year by fishing boats. However, that number is down by 90% thanks to a boost in technologies for fishing such as "turtle excluders" that help release turtles from nets.

Other major problems include the consumption of turtles as meat, for crafting trinkets, and collection of their eggs. This might even be more damaging than bycatch to turtle populations. However, it is just this collection of data that Conservation International and other organizations are working on providing. It could be possible to work out programs that are sustainable and benefit both the economy of local communities as well as the recovery of the species, such as is trying to be worked out with the legal collection of sea turtle eggs in Ostinal.

"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."


Despite decades of conservation efforts, leatherbacks in the East Pacific have declined by 90% in the past 20 years due to egg consumption and bycatch. Coastal development looms as the next threat to their survival. © Jason Bradley/BradleyPhotographic.com

Not all the news from the report is dire. There are 12 populations of turtles that appear to be the most healthy and they are "generally large populations with increasing trends under relatively low threats. Five species 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 included the Southwest Indian Ocean, Micronesia and French Polynesia."

They include Loggerhead turtles in the Northwest Indian Ocean; Green turtles in the Southeast Indian Ocean, Southwest Atlantic Ocean, East Pacific Ocean, Southwest Pacific Ocean, South Central Pacific Ocean; Hawksbill turtles in the Southeast Indian Ocean, Southwest Indian Ocean and Southwest Pacific Ocean; Leatherback turtles in the Southeast Atlantic Ocean and Northwest Atlantic Ocean; and Olive ridley turtles in the East Pacific Ocean.

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Tags: Animals | Conservation | Endangered Species