The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
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Review calls for safeguarding of sea turtle populations

An in-depth review of sea turtle population monitoring studies has highlighted a need for immediate action to protect these key marine species.

A team of experts from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies reviewed more than 600 publications spanning four decades to assess population monitoring efforts for all seven sea turtle species.

Their analysis reveals biases in research focus, with certain species and oceanic regions studied more than others.

Urgent action

The researchers call for urgent action to address major underrepresentation in monitoring studies of the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley and hawksbill as well as the flatback sea turtle, which doesn’t have an assessed conservation status due to insufficient population data.

The study also emphasises the need for increased monitoring programs in Southeast Asia and Northern and Central Africa, where sea turtle populations remain poorly understood.

Integrated monitoring

Field-based methods, notably satellite tracking and nest surveys, have been the main approaches used for sea turtle population monitoring, while genetic approaches have been underutilised despite the importance of ensuring high genetic diversity for species adaptation to environmental changes

Despite ongoing conservation efforts, population declines persist across all seven sea turtle species, meaning immediate action to halt or mitigate these trends is vital, researchers say.

Their findings highlight the need to use population monitoring data to inform conservation policy.

Conservation status

The team also stresses the importance of utilising this data when updating official species assessments in the Red List of Endangered Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which evaluates species’ risk of extinction.

In particular, the researchers highlight concerns about the flatback, green turtle, and hawksbill, for which last assessments were in 1996, 2004, and 2008, respectively, despite evidence of population declines since then.

There is an urgent need for international cooperation and collaboration with local communities to protect sea turtles, the research team says, as sea turtles disperse over large areas and play a critical role as keystone species in marine ecosystems.

This research was conducted as part of an MSc Applied Conservation Genetics with Wildlife Forensics dissertation, and was published in Diversity.

The findings of this study serve as a call for immediate efforts to conserve sea turtle populations and safeguard the oceans they inhabit. Failure to address the identified gaps in sea turtle population monitoring could jeopardise not only these iconic marine animals but also the health and functioning of entire marine ecosystems.

Haley Hendrix, MSc student and first author

Biases in sea turtle population monitoring efforts underscore the critical need for action to protect these species. Integrating available data into conservation policy as well as to establish international collaboration and involvement of local communities is essential to ensure the long-term survival of sea turtles and the health of our oceans.

Dr Silvia Perez-Espona, thesis supervisor and Conservation Science Programme Coordinator

About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies  

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than 800 staff and almost 1400 students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos.  

The School comprises:  

The Roslin Institute  

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems  

The Roslin Innovation Centre  

The Hospital for Small Animals  

Equine Veterinary Services  

Farm Animal Services  

Easter Bush Pathology  

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education  

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.   

Related links

Research publication