Actions to Strengthen Marine Turtle Conservation agreed at UN Meeting in Tanzania

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Governments, scientific experts and stakeholders gathered over four days in an international meeting that ended on Thursday 27 June 2024 to discuss pressing conservation issues for marine turtles in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia region.

The 9th Meeting of the Signatory States to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia (IOSEA Marine Turtles MOU) agreed on a number of conservation actions. These include the adoption of a Single Species Action Plan for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, recommendations on beach management and hatchery practices, as well as the endorsement of guidance on identifying critical habitats for turtles. On the closing day of the meeting, the State of Kuwait – hosting five of the seven marine turtle species – became 36th Signatory State by signing the agreement.

The MOU is one of several specialized agreements under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

“The need for increased efforts to conserve migratory species of wild animals has never been greater. I am pleased that this meeting agreed on a number of key commitments for the conservation of marine turtles, underscoring the importance of international cooperation to achieve shared objectives.”

Amy Fraenkel, CMS Executive Secretary

Marine turtles are migratory species which have thrived for millions of years and the IOSEA region is home to six out of seven species. But they are now at risk due to human activities. Direct threats such as bycatch, egg collection, hunting for meat or shells and destruction of nesting habitat are compounded by indirect threats like plastic ingestion, entanglement in marine debris, and light pollution at nesting beaches.

One major topic at the meeting was on how to address the adverse impacts of climate change on marine turtles. According to the recent State of the World’s Migratory Species report, climate change is predicted to pose a threat to species with temperature-dependent sex determination, such as marine turtles. A study of the northern Great Barrier Reef Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) population found that 87% of adult turtles were female, rising to 99% in juvenile and subadult turtles. The difference in sex ratio between these two age groups was suggested to indicate an increase in the proportion of females in recent decades, likely due to rising sand temperatures.

Other climate change impacts such as rising sea levels and frequent storms further endanger nesting habitats and reduce nesting success. To address the issue, six different management actions were agreed by governments, giving them a suite of options to be used, depending on local conditions:

Manage threats to individual females, nests, and hatchlings on the beach

Prevent beach erosion with sound coastal management practices

Use Managed Retreat options to manage inappropriate developments

Protect or defend coastal infrastructure/turtle nesting beaches through e.g. beach nourishment schemes

Sacrifice infrastructure to re-establish coastal processes

Apply spatial planning approaches to ensure sufficient habitat is available away from competing activities and intact coastal connectivity

The appropriate use of in situ protection and ex situ egg relocation or hatcheries was also discussed as being an option of last resort.

The meeting also discussed the unintentional negative impacts from efforts to protect coastal property from rising sea levels. These coastal constructions can disrupt beach dynamics, affect sediment movement, and harm the nesting and incubation environments, posing significant risks to hatchlings.

The meeting also advanced efforts to address the protection of important habitats for marine turtles. The Network of Sites of Importance for Marine Turtles in the Indian Ocean – South-East Asia Region was formally adopted by the 6th Meeting of Signatory States to the IOSEA Marine Turtle MOU in 2012 and to date fifteen sites have been added to the Network, including four at this meeting:

Cox’s Bazar Coast in Bangladesh: An important nesting site for Olive Ridley and green turtles, with Hawksbill turtles observed inshore. The extensive beach offers resilience against natural and human impacts, with significant cultural and social value for local communities.

Al Qurm Protected Area in the United Arab Emirates: A vital foraging site for juvenile green sea turtles, featuring diverse habitats including rocky reefs, mudflats, and mangroves. This area provides undisturbed foraging opportunities and showcases a migratory link to Masirah, Oman.

Sharma, Jathmoun and Dhargum Natural Reserve in Yemen: A crucial nesting area for green turtles, free from disruptions such as lights and noise.

Khore Omiera Protected Area in Yemen: an important feeding ground of green turtles.

Governments also endorsed guidance on identifying critical habitats, including specifications for the life stages of each species of marine turtle.

Among other important measures, Signatory States adopted a Single Species Action Plan (SSAP) for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific Ocean Region. This plan, developed in collaboration with CMS and adopted by all CMS Parties at the recent 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (CMS COP14), aids governments in fulfilling commitments across various policy frameworks, addressing the complex linkages between community and commercial use of hawksbill turtles.

Additionally, a Work Programme for the years 2024-2028 was adopted, which sets in place agreed priorities in marine turtle conservation in the Indian Ocean South-East Asia region. Implementation will be aided by a renewed focus on capacity building for government officials, NGOs, community groups and the commercial sector.

Addressing the conservation of marine turtles is of global importance and provides an opportunity for countries to contribute to achieving wider goals such as the Samarkand Strategic Plan for Migratory Species, the UN Decade of Oceans Science for Sustainable Development and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

 

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