The report, put together by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, identifies the East Pacific Ocean as one of the most dangerous places for sea turtles to live.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Dr Bryan Wallace, lead author of an IUCN report on sea turtle populations
WALLACE: Globally, turtles are thriving in the sense that there's lots of them, depending on where you look, some populations are doing quite well, like some in the Pacific Islands region, where as you mentioned, on the otherside of the Pacific there's some populations that aren't doing so well, that are actually faced with extinction if certain threats to their survival aren't mitigated relatively soon.
COUTTS: Well, can we concentrate on that group for a moment. What threats need to be mitigated and where in particular are these populations?
WALLACE: Yeah, so in the eastern Pacific, so these are populations of sea turtles that nest along the coast of the Americas. The two, three populations in particular are the Leatherbacks which are the largest species in the world. They can get up to 800 over 900 kilos. The main threats to their survival in the last 20 or 30 years are consumption of their eggs by people and fisheries by catch which means fishing gears in the water targeting things other than turtles that accidentally catch turtles, that actually turns out to be a pretty major threat to sea turtles globally. Other populations in the eastern Pacific in the same way as Leatherbacks aren't fairing so well are also suffering to similar threats to by catch and then consumption of turtle products, whether it be eggs or meat or in the case of the Hawksbills, which are probably the most beautiful sea turtle species. Their shell material is used to make arts and crafts and tortoise shell jewellery you're probably familiar with. So by and large, this is kind of specific to the eastern Pacific, but it indicates some more pervasive threats to sea turtles globally, specifically by catch and take and in other cases, coastal development, climate change can come into play as well. So this report gave us sort of a blue print of what threats are most important for what populations.
COUTTS: Well years like "International Year of the Turtle" and conservation programs that a lot of countries like Vanuatu are running to teach the local populations not to kill turtles. That's not having any impact?
WALLACE: Oh, it sure has in some places. It definitely has. Brazil is a country that we pointed out that actually came out of our analysis as being and Australia as well as a matter of fact as countries that are harbingers of healthy populations of sea turtles and a big reason for that. It's not that they've never been threats, it's that conservation actions in those places, in many cases, directly involving local communities in the solutions as opposed to putting a fence up around the turtles and keep people away from them has been a major part of recovery for a lot of these populations. So as I started to mention, Brazil, Projeto Tamar (Ibama) which is probably the best sea turtle organisation in the world has worked for decades with coastal communities up and down the coast of Brazil, engaging them either in the direct conservation and monitoring efforts or by using non-consumptive use of the turtles, like tourism of arts and crafts that they can sell as an alternative livelihood to collecting and selling eggs, for example. So no, absolutely, because conservation happens on local scales where people who might depend on them as resources are living. They have to be part of the solution, there has to be buy in from local communities for conservation to work in most places.
COUTTS: Well, it's the first comprehensive status assessment of sea turtle populations globally. What are some of the things that you discovered from this comprehensive assessment that you weren't expecting?
WALLACE: Oh well, I think of the eleven most threatened populations that came out as a result of our analysis. Five of those populations occur in the North Indian Ocean. I know we can focus on the Pacific a little bit, but if you allow me, let's cruise over to the Indian Ocean. We were aware of going into the study of pretty major threats from by catch and from egg consumption and things, but until we did the analysis we didn't realise just how dire the situation was for a lot of the populations that occur there. As well as much information is still lacking for us to really understand the severity of the threats and the impacts on the populations and I think pleasant surprises was we our announcers did highlight a lot of success stories and so while we had hoped that would be the case, it's such a positive because well, it just shows that green conservation in general, and sea conservation in particular is not just doom and gloom. There have been a lot of successes in a lot of places, so the key now is for us to take those lessons learned and adapt them to the places where the populations might not be doing so well. So I think it wasn't only useful as a blue print for our community, but also as hopefully a boost to the overall sea turtle conservation moral.
COUTTS: How are many of those lessons learned in the healthy populations are transferable to the areas where they're not doing so well?
WALLACE: That's really a great question. Certainly the local application of lessons learned has to be tailored appropriately to the stakeholders and to situations. But at least from a bit of a broader perspective, there are several tools. In some cases, it fixes to fishing gear, to either keep turtles out or to enable escape if they do interact with gear or even to avoid fishing in areas where there might be turtles at a particular time and in a particular place. Again to fill in those blanks as to where and the when and the how. You need to know something about your local situation, but at least understanding that it has been possible and engaging the fishing sector in those solutions is one good example. Another that we've already talked about a little bit is how to appropriately engage the local community in those solutions. Obviously, any conservation program is going to be most sustainable if the people that live there and have the most invested in a particular place and its resources are part of that solution. So while, yes, some local tailoring of lessons learned is absolutely necessary, there are definitely plenty of these positive or at least may be can inspire some related action on a local scale.