African Marine Turtles Programme: Coordination and Development

Geographical location:

Africa/Madagascar > Africa General


Five species of marine turtles are reported to nest on African beaches - the green (Chelonia mydas), the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), and the olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) turtle.

Increasingly, human activities are threatening marine turtles, both directly (deliberate or incidental catch, egg collection, pollution) and indirectly (destruction or degradation of nesting and foraging habitats), and mitigating actions are urgently required to ensure their survival in Africa. Turtles are particularly vulnerable on shore and in coastal waters, where they are brought into close proximity with coastal dwellers, but high seas fisheries also pose a threat. All five species of marine turtles found in African waters are categorised on the IUCN Red List as endangered or critically endangered.

The major issues for marine turtle conservation in Africa and Madagascar are:
- Loss and degradation of nesting, inter-nesting and foraging habitats;
- Overexploitation of eggs, meat, carapaces and other products;
- Incidental capture by trawlers, gillnets and other fishing gears;
- Limited capacity to manage turtle populations.

WWF has supported marine turtle conservation in the Africa and Madagascar region since 1969. In light of the common threats to marine turtle populations highlighted above, it was considered appropriate to develop a regional strategy for marine turtle conservation in which WWF can play a specific and well-identified role under a programmatic approach. The AMP Subcommittee approved the development of the Africa and Madagascar Marine Turtle Programme (AMTP) in February 2001 and the Programme was established in May 2002.


Marine turtles are long-lived and highly migratory species, which spend their lifecycles in a variety of habitats. Only the adult females come to shore, where they excavate nests to lay eggs on sandy beaches, often the same beaches where they hatched many years, if not decades previously. After hatching, the juveniles of all species are pelagic and spend many years drifting in open water. As young adults, all but the leatherback move into coastal waters and inshore habitats to breed and forage, but continue to migrate between different foraging and nesting grounds. Females typically lay two-three batches of eggs in a nesting season, and pass several weeks in shallow internesting areas. Few of the thousands of eggs laid by a female during their lifetime will survive to adulthood as the majority of eggs and hatchlings fall victim to predators.


There are 4 programme targets, each with a series of milestones (see attached files):
1. Loss and degradation of critical nesting, inter-nesting and foraging habitats reduced or prevented in at least eight key sites by 2010.
2. Measures to control unsustainable use and trade of marine turtles and turtle products enhanced in at least six countries by 2010.
3. Incidental capture of marine turtles reduced in the territorial waters of at least six countries and in at least two pelagic fisheries by 2010.
4. Capacity for monitoring, research and management of marine turtles and their habitats enhanced in at least eight countries by 2006.

The programme goal (10 years):
The conservation status of marine turtles in African waters is enhanced through the reduction of threats caused by loss and degradation of critical habitats, unsustainable use, and incidental capture (bycatch).

Long term goal (25 years):
Viable populations of all five species of Marine Turtles in African waters are conserved.

Programme vision (100+ years):
Marine turtles in the Africa and Madagascar Region are protected and restored to healthy levels reflecting their intrinsic values, role in ecosystem functioning and benefits to people.

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