Sea turtle populations show sign of a comeback
By Cecilia Vásquez
Before 2008, hawksbill turtles had virtually disappeared from the Eastern Pacific. But small-scale conservation efforts enabled their return to the shores of El Salvador and Nicaragua, where researchers found them again laying eggs and slowly beginning to rebuild their population.
Sea turtles are migratory animals. They spend most of their lives at sea, nesting on the beaches of various countries along their route. Among the main threats to their health are unsustainable fishing practices (they often get trapped in fishing nets) and inadequately developed projects in marine and coastal areas.
The appearance of these turtles on Central American beaches, among other such events, demonstrates the success of small-scale conservation efforts, and the need for them to continue.
Signs of recovery
According to the recent study, Global sea turtle conservation successes, over the last decade sea turtle hatcheries have helped some populations rebound after historic declines. That’s the case of olive ridley turtles in the northeast Indian Ocean and of green turtles in the South Central Atlantic.
After years of implementation, the protection of beaches, the regulation of fishing, and the creation of marine protected areas have helped improve sea turtle populations in waters around the world, according to researchers.
The study also shows that, with adequate protections, even small populations of sea turtles have a chance of survival.
Researchers found, for example, that in the area of Hawaii called French Frigate Shoals, the population of nesting green sea turtles increased from around 200 in 1973 – when the Endangered Species Act was created – to upwards of 2,000 in 2012. Green turtles are now considered a species of “minor concern” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Sea turtle conservation, like that of other animals and plants, requires that organizations, communities, and governments work together. Such collaboration is a main tenant of AIDA’s work.
In 1998, we organized a campaign to get the signatures needed for the negotiation of an international treaty to promote the protection, conservation and recovery of sea turtle populations. We are currently working to ensure that governments who signed the treaty are operating in compliance with it.
We also helped save green turtles in Costa Rica, and are currently working to protect the Veracruz Reef System in Mexico, in whose warm and shallow waters hundreds of hawksbill and olive ridley turtles swim. Both species are at risk due to the expansion of the Port of Veracruz, a project that would cause serious damage to the expansive reef system.
Much work remains
Despite the impressive recovery of several species of turtle, there are others that remain in need of protection, as their numbers continue to decline worldwide. This is the case, according to the study, of both the leatherback turtle in the eastern and western Pacific and of the flatback turtle in Australia.
A new beacon of hope for turtles can be found in the development, before the United Nations, of a treaty to protect the high seas, those international waters that belong to no country (but make up two-thirds of the world’s oceans). Sea turtles, sharks, whales and birds live in these waters or travel them as part of their migratory routes.
Through our active role in the treaty’s development, we seek to create Marine Protected Areas to ensure the high seas remain a safe home for not just sea turtles, but for the many species of plants and animals that contribute to the health of the oceans and support the global food supply.