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The State of the World's Sea Turtles Program

Strengthening local sea turtle conservation programs worldwide through research, communications, and targeted support.

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Overview

Sea turtles have survived on Earth for more than 100 million years, yet today their future hangs in the balance. Six of the seven sea turtle species are threatened with extinction due to human impacts including fisheries bycatch, coastal development, plastic pollution, and the consumption of sea turtles and their eggs.

Through our sea turtle programs, we aim to fulfill a global need in sea turtle conservation that was previously unmet. We are leading collaborations among hundreds of individuals and institutions worldwide to generate needed information for sea turtle conservation, and we are getting that information into the hands of the people who need it most, from scientists to students, community leaders, governments, and funders. We also support sea turtle conservation efforts on the ground with tools and resources that help them succeed.

Beyond “just" saving sea turtles, our programs aim to leverage action for broader marine conservation. Because saving sea turtles and saving the oceans require many of the same actions—addressing unsustainable fishing, reducing pollution, mitigating global warming, protecting habitats like coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds, maintaining natural coastlines, and developing sustainable local economies. Saving sea turtles is saving the oceans.

Threats

Sea turtles worldwide face a variety of threats that have threatened them with extinction. The top five threats that endanger sea turtles are:

  • Fisheries Bycatch: Considered the greatest single threat to sea turtle populations worldwide, scientists estimate that millions of sea turtles have been accidentally captured by fisheries since 1990.
  • Pollution: Plastic pollution, oil spills, and chemical runoff have all impacted sea turtles. A recent study found plastic in the stomachs of more than one-third of leatherback turtles found dead since 1968.
  • Coastal Development: Development of coastal areas where sea turtles breed and nest can impact sea turtles in a variety of ways, including disorientation from light pollution, boat collisions, and nest disturbance.
  • Direct Take: Sea turtles and their eggs are taken by people (both legally and illegally) in many parts of the world for consumption and use of shell material for handicrafts and jewelry.
  • Global Warming: Rising sea level, hotter temperatures, and increased storm frequency caused by global warming may lead to the loss of suitable nesting habitats and affect natural sex ratios, which are determined by nest incubation temperature.
How We Are Helping

Oceanic Society supports local sea turtle conservation efforts worldwide by partnering with hundreds of individuals and institutions to improve sea turtle science, set priorities for research and conservation, and provide needed resources to conservation projects. We support sea turtle conservation efforts worldwide through two programs:

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

Founded in 2003, SWOT is a partnership among Oceanic Society, the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group, Duke University's OBIS-SEAMAP, and a growing international network of institutions and individuals. This powerful group—the SWOT Team—works to compile and publish global sea turtle data that support conservation and management efforts at the international, national, and local scales. These data reside within the SWOT database, which is continually updated and made publicly available. It is widely used by researchers, conservationists, students and teachers, funding agencies, and government officials.

Each year we publish a new volume of The State of the World’s Sea Turtles (SWOT) Report, an award-winning magazine designed to channel the SWOT Team's collective power by highlighting its success stories, innovations, and new findings. SWOT Report is distributed back to the SWOT Team members who helped create it, free of charge, for use in their own local outreach campaigns in communities where sea turtles occur. For more information visit www.seaturtlestatus.org.

The IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group

Oceanic Society co-manages the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group, a volunteer network of more than 220 of the world's leading sea turtle experts in more than 70 countries. The Marine Turtle Specialist Group is part of IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which is the world's oldest and largest global environmental network. Founded as part of IUCN's Species Survival Commission in 1966, the Marine Turtle Specialist Group is the world authority on sea turtles. The group's primary responsibility is to regularly assess the global risk of extinction for each of the world's seven species of sea turtles using IUCN Red List criteria. 

For more information visit www.iucn-mtsg.org.

Photos

Project Updates

Download SWOT Report, Vol. X We are pleased to announce that SWOT Report—The State of the World's Sea Turtles, tenth anniversary edition is now available online! SWOT Report, vol. 10 was launched in Dalaman, Turkey last week at the 35th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation. It features the first multi-species national-scale map produced using SWOT's sea turtle database—focusing on Costa Rica—and includes articles…Read More →On Winning In Turtle Conservation This article first appeared in The State of the World's Sea Turtles (SWOT) Report, Vol. 9, published by Oceanic Society in April 2014. “Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." — Vince Lombardi I am not a very competitive person when it comes to sports. Neither are my daughters, which suggests the possibility of a genetic basis for such things. We prefer the…Read More →Download a copy of SWOT Report, Vol. 9We are thrilled to announce the publication of the ninth annual volume of The State of the World's Sea Turtles—SWOT Report. SWOT Report is an annual publication created by a global network of sea turtle researchers and conservationists that aims to raise awareness about endangered sea turtles and motivate action for conservation.The latest issue of SWOT Report highlights trends in…Read More →Update From Panama: On The Way To Becoming A Nature Reserve Our biggest event this fall was a visit from representatives of the Panamanian Authority on Aquatic Resources, ARAP, who came to collect the data necessary to declare Armila a Special Reserve Zone. Though members of the agency have wanted to protect the area for years, Morrison Mast and I were both thrilled and surprised when our offer of research…Read More →Announcing Six Grants To Sea Turtle Conservation Projects Oceanic Society is excited to announce six small grants to sea turtle conservation projects in Cape Verde, Cook Islands, Ecuador, Grenada, India, and Mexico. The grants are being awarded as part of our global State of the World's Sea Turtles (SWOT) Program, which has hosted an annual small grants competition since 2006. In total, 49 grants have been awarded to…Read More →

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