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Global Sea Turtle Programs And Staff Join Oceanic Society

By Brian Hutchinson

Since 2003, an ambitious global effort to prevent the extinction of sea turtles and their habitats has been underway through the State of the World's Sea Turtles (SWOT) Program and the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group. These networks have become leading forces in global sea turtle conservation, and are now providing focus, coordination, and support to hundreds of partners worldwide. In April 2012, the programs and their founders and key staff (Roderic Mast, Brian Hutchinson, and Bryan Wallace) joined Oceanic Society, and have established a new East Coast office in the Washington D.C. area.

Oceanic Society has participated in the SWOT program for several years by contributing sea turtle data from our programs in Ulithi and Suriname, as well as receiving project support through the SWOT Small Grants Program. We are excited to have Rod, Brian, and Bryan on board, and also to tell you about the work they are now leading under our roof.

A leatherback turtle returns to sea in Trinidad. © Brian J. Hutchinson

The State of the World's Sea Turtles (SWOT) Program

The State of the World's Sea Turtles Program (SWOT for short) was established in 2003 as a partnership between Conservation International, Duke University, and the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group. The program has since grown to include hundreds of field-based partners worldwide who contribute sea turtle data, expertise, and other resources to SWOT, and also make use of its products to support their research and conservation efforts.

Since April, Oceanic Society has taken on the role of implementing partner of the SWOT Program. SWOT's long-term goals are to create a global network of data contributors (the “SWOT Team," with more than 500 members), to generate a publicly available, global-scale, geo-referenced database of all nesting beaches, migration routes, and foraging areas for all species and age classes of sea turtles, and to use this information as the centerpiece of a targeted communications effort to reach people everywhere that can make a difference for marine conservation. The SWOT Program's primary products are:

  • The publicly available SWOT Database, hosted by Duke University's OBIS-SEAMAP program.
  • The award-winning annual SWOT Report, now in production with its eighth volume, and a related website.
  • The “SWOT Team" network of partners worldwide who contribute to and use SWOT's products.
  • An annual small grants program, which has provided 43 grants to projects in 27 countries.

We look forward to sharing more about the SWOT Program with you as it continues to grow and develop at Oceanic Society.

The IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group

The Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) is one of more than 120 specialist groups that comprise the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Founded in 1966, today the MTSG has more than 230 expert members in more than 80 countries and territories who volunteer their time and expertise. Devoted entirely to the study and conservation of sea turtles around the world, the group develops strategies, sets priorities, and provides tools to guide communities, governments, researchers, corporations, non-profit groups, and other participants in marine conservation.

The primary responsibility of the MTSG is to conduct regular Red List Assessments of the seven sea turtle species. These assessments draw on available scientific data and the group's broad expertise to assess the extinction risk of each sea turtle species. The result is a categorization of each species, such as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable, and a detailed account that becomes part of IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. These listings are widely recognized and used by countries, organizations, and individuals worldwide to guide conservation action.

As of April, Oceanic Society has been acting as sponsor and administrator for the MTSG through the group's co-chair Roderic Mast, program officer Brian Hutchinson, and Red List focal point Bryan Wallace. We look forward to continuing to support and coordinate the work of this important group to ensure a healthy future for sea turtle populations worldwide.

Author

Brian Hutchinson is Oceanic Society's vice president of outreach, co-founder of the State of the World's Sea Turtles Program, and program officer of the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Brian holds a B.A. in zoology from Connecticut College, and has been working to advance global marine conservation for more than a decade.