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Date: July 15, 2010
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for immediate release
In light of the difficulties encountered in assessing sea turtle populations, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked the Research Council to examine methods that could improve population assessments carried out by NMFS -- which is overseen by NOAA and responsible for the management of sea turtles in the water -- and FWS, which is responsible for sea turtles on land. The report does not evaluate the cause of sea turtle declines or conduct its own assessment of sea turtle populations.
"The biggest obstacle to assessing the status of sea turtle populations is that we know little about key characteristics of these creatures, such as what size they are at different ages, the average proportion of turtles that will survive through each year, and their growth rates," said Karen Bjorndal, chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor of biology and director of the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida, Gainesville. "Sea turtles can live for many decades, and can take more than 30 years to reach reproductive maturity. When more is known about their ages, distribution, and genetic differences, models can provide better population estimates and help us understand changes in population abundance."
Long lifespans and wide-ranging migrations over different habitats make sea turtles difficult to monitor, the committee emphasized. Current sea turtle assessments in the
Although information on the number of sea turtles at various life stages is essential, this alone is insufficient to understand the causes of sea turtle population trends, develop management plans to protect sea turtle populations, or predict future trends, the report says. The committee found that the most serious data gaps exist in estimates of the number of immature sea turtles, survival rates of immature turtles and nesting females, age at sexual maturity, the proportion of adult females that breed each year, and the number of nests each female creates in a breeding season.
In addition, adequate information is not available for population assessments because data either have not been collected or have not been analyzed and made accessible. The report suggests NMFS and FWS develop plans for the collection and analysis of data to address gaps, create a database that identifies datasets in the
Moreover, the committee said, reviews of federal sea turtle population assessments and research plans are not sufficiently rigorous and transparent, and there are unnecessary obstacles to the collection and analysis of critical data, including the process for issuing research permits and inadequate training of scientists. To address these issues, NMFS and FWS should support a program to safeguard and make accessible as many sea turtle databases as possible, ensure that all research plans generated from within federal agencies are reviewed by panels comprised of federal and nonfederal scientists, and convene a working group to evaluate the permitting process for research projects and find ways to expedite the process while safeguarding the species.
The report was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering,
Copies of Assessment of Sea Turtle Status and Trends: Integrating Demography and Abundance are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
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[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Ocean Studies Board
Committee on Review of Sea Turtle Population Assessment Methods
Karen A. Bjorndal (chair)
Professor and Chair
Department of Biology
Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology
Ecological Modelling Services Pty Ltd.
Professor of Marine Ecology
Center for Marine Conservation
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife
Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Research Professor, and
Senior Scientist and Director
Blair E. Witherington
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF