Marine Turtles

[in development]
Marine turtles are some of the best loved species of the ocean environment. But it is not only their appearance that captivates us; these animals also contribute to the healthy functioning of the marine ecosystem in their role as habitat for so-called ‘aquatic hitchhikers’, small crustaceans (such as barnacles) that live on their shells. One sea turtle can carry more than 100 000 tiny animals on its shell. As large reptiles, they also act as a natural shield for fish that swim in their cover to protect against predators. And they help to balance the ecosystem by eating excess organisms, for example jellyfish or dead fish. They are highly migratory and can be found anywhere from the Atlantic and Indian oceans to the Coral Triangle in the Pacific Ocean. The existing seven species of marine turtles sometimes come to shore to nest or bask, but spend most of their time in the ocean.

Over the last 200 years, human activities have posed the biggest threat to the survival of these important animals, through hunting turtles for consumption and product processing to destructive fishing practices of which marine turtles are among the unintended victims (by-catch). Further threats include marine debris, which marine turtles ingest or become entangled in, oil spills and beach activities that disturb nesting females.

Participants at the 7th Mediterranean Conference on Marine Turtles, Tetouan (Morocco)

Because of their migratory character, it can be a challenge to include marine turtles in the management plans of Marine Protected Areas. This also applies to marine mammals, for which the Ocean Governance Project has developed a twinning group for managers with marine mammals in their MPA. Twinning partners can build technical capacities in this regard and make use of a self-assessment tool that helps them to improve the integration of marine mammals in their MPA management.

Together with partners in the Atlantic and South-East Asia, the Ocean Governance project now aims to adapt this tool for marine turtles and form a new network of managers who are keen to improve marine turtle protection in their MPA. The project hosted webinars on the topic in 2021 and 2022, and presented the Marine Mammals toolkit and its potential adaptation at the Mediterranean Conference on Marine Turtles. During Learning Exchanges with South-East Asia in Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia) in October 2022, the programme included marine turtles and the management of migratory species, to the enthusiasm of participants.