Maps reveal secret life of marine turtles in urgent need of protection



Posted on 28 July 2009  | 
A series of conservation maps produced by WWF reveal for the first time the secret life of endangered turtles in the world’s most diverse marine region – the Coral Triangle.

The maps are the first to bring together the different life cycle movements, migration routes, foraging grounds, and nesting sites of green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles.

The maps were produced with the help of satellite tracking, and allow the identification and targeting of areas in urgent need of protection. They also highlight the inter-connectedness of marine habitats making a strong case for cooperation among Coral Triangle countries for the protection of shared marine resources in the region.

“We now have a better picture and more comprehensive understanding of where marine turtles feed, breed, and nest around the waters of the Coral Triangle,” says Matheus Halim, WWF Coral Triangle Turtle Strategy Leader.

Marine turtles play a crucial role in the delicate web of ocean life by maintaining the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs, which are home to other marine species such as shrimp, lobster, sharks, dugongs and innumerable reef fish.

The maps serve as a guideline for where to establish Marine Protected Areas. “The maps clearly identify which areas in this region need protection”, added Halim. “WWF is calling for the establishment of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that encompass these locations as part of the new six nations Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) and for turtles to be made a priority under The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN).”

Apart from showing life cycle movements, the maps also give valuable information about locations with the high incidence of turtle bycatch in the region, helping to identify where fishing methods require modification.

The Coral Triangle, home to six of the seven known species of marine turtles in the world, stretches across six countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, covering the seas of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Timor Leste.

Marine turtles are listed on the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species as either ‘Endangered’ or ‘Critically Endangered.’ This means they are among the most threatened animals on the planet and face the real risk of extinction.

The loss of nesting beaches and feeding habitats due to pollution and coastal development, the illegal trade and consumption of turtle eggs, meat, and other derivatives for commercial purposes, and the accidental catch (or ‘bycatch’) of turtles in fishing gears are just some of the many threats facing marine turtles.

Marine habitats in the Coral Triangle important to commercially-valuable fish species are being lost or degraded at an unprecedented rate. The last decade alone has seen a drastic decline in fish stocks due to inadequate fisheries management and widespread overuse of marine and coastal resources.

Establishing a network of MPAs can help alleviate the stress on marine and coastal resources and help build the marine environment’s resilience against other threats such as coral bleaching, caused by climate change.

“MPAs offer a range of benefits for fisheries, people, and the marine environment by providing safe havens for endangered species to thrive and for depleted fish stocks to recover,” says Dr Lida Pet-Soede, WWF Coral Triangle Programme Leader. “MPAs provide services to local communities who depend on the sea and its resources. Protecting these critical marine habitats means protecting the food and livelihood of millions people in the Coral Triangle region and beyond.”

The maps were produced by WWF in collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation and other regional partners.


Hawksbill turtles, one of five marine turtle species found in Malaysia, that are threatened from fishing activities and international trade.
© WWF-Canon / Cat Holloway Enlarge

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