Sea Turtles Were; Sea Turtles Are; Sea Turtles Will

Ethan Freedman

Oct 4, 2017


The most emotional word in conservation is “were.”

Cheetahs were once found across Africa and the Middle East.

Lonesome George was the last one of his species of Galapagos Tortoise.

Now-extinct Great Auks were characterized by shimmering black and white feathers across a tall body.

“Were” peppers the vocabulary of every conservationist like pepper peppers a well-seasoned stuffed pepper. It often has a negative connotation. But every once in awhile, we get to use “were” in the most beautiful way. This week, I’m privileged to write this sentence:

Many sea turtle populations were on the decline.

You read that correctly. By conglomerating population estimates of individual sea turtle populations over the past few decades, researchers found that the majority of sea turtle populations across the world’s oceans are increasing in size. While the increasing numbers are encouraging on their own, this study also showed the potential for sea turtle populations to rebound after periods of decline — an important factor in potential conservation success.

  • A Vulnerable Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta).

This announcement follows the Snow Leopard news we reported on. Researchers determined that the global Snow Leopard population was much larger than earlier estimates. This change was due to both advances in monitoring techniques and conservation successes. But the overall Snow Leopard population is still declining. This sea turtle news is an aggregation of existing numbers, not a new estimate. In addition, with sea turtles, the researchers found some locations with declining populations but the vast majority of locations had increasing populations.

Of course, some sea turtle populations are still declining. This includes many populations of Vulnerable Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea). The authors also clarified that their assessment doesn’t contradict the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) assessment of sea turtle species as “Vulnerable,” “Endangered” or “Critically Endangered.” Sea turtles are still in danger of extinction, and the IUCN listings continue to make that clear.

  • Many populations of Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) are still declining. Photo by Bernard Dupont/CC 2.0.

Instead, this new report and the increasing sea turtle populations are living proof that conservation can work. The researchers mention that increased nest protections and innovations to reduce turtle mortality from fishing were probably big factors in the population rebounds. Despite continued threats and a remaining high risk of extinction, a future for sea turtles is more likely thanks to diligent conservation work around the world.

Rainforest Trust is working to support sea turtle habitat protection across 172,974 acres of Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce, a feeding and breeding site for Critically Endangered Hawksbill Turtles, Endangered Green Turtles and Vulnerable Olive Ridleys.

For More Information and to Support this Project: Sanctuary for the Scalloped Hammerheads of Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica