Sea turtles are among the world’s oldest species. They crossed the Pacific Ocean millenia before Ferdinand Magellan and found its many islands long before Polynesians did. And NOAA Fisheries is recommending more than $1 million for projects to help ensure sea turtles can continue to roam the Pacific and beyond for millenia to come.
All sea turtle species found in U.S. waters are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. They benefit from strong federal protections that help to reduce their interactions with U.S. fisheries. But the animals don’t always stay in the waters of any one nation. Leatherback sea turtles, for example, will feed off the Pacific coast of North America and migrate across the ocean to nest in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. Importantly, their recovery also requires protecting them at their nesting beaches and coastal habitats.
“While accidental fishery interactions are a threat to sea turtle populations, many significant threats also occur in areas outside of U.S. jurisdiction in turtles’ important international habitats,” said Irene Kelly, sea turtle recovery coordinator for the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office. “It is imperative to work with international partners to help develop in-country capacity, expertise, and governance to help support recovery efforts.”
To that end, NOAA has recommended providing $430,000 to fund five projects under the 2023 International Marine Turtle Management and Conservation Program.
Along with recommending funding for these five internationally based projects, NOAA plans to provide a total of $581,000 to continue Hawai‘i-based projects that support sea turtles as well as Hawaiian monk seals.
International Turtle Projects
The five internationally based projects will support the ongoing conservation needs of leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley sea turtles in Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Japan, and the Philippines. The leatherback turtle projects, in particular, implement critical elements of NOAA’s Species in the Spotlight Action Plan.
Buru Island, Indonesia
A leatherback turtle nesting beach was newly identified (to NOAA) in 2017 at Buru Island, Maluku province of Indonesia. Since then, World Wildlife Fund and in-country partners have reduced illegal poaching of nests there from 60 percent to less than 1 percent, with no nesting females poached. NOAA plans to continue funding the nesting beach project, which is an important component of leatherback turtle conservation. Data will provide a better understanding of the Western Pacific leatherback population.
Kei Islands, Indonesia
For decades, several villages in the Kei Islands of Indonesia have engaged in an indigenous hunt of juvenile and adult leatherback turtles foraging in coastal habitats. NOAA plans to continue supporting a multifaceted leatherback conservation project with the World Wildlife Fund-U.S. and WWF-Indonesia that has reduced hunting by approximately 85 percent since 2017! A recently established Kei Island Marine Protected Area, which has local, district, and provincial government commitments, will further reduce hunting pressure and maintain conservation momentum.
Isabel Island, Solomon Islands
NOAA plans to continue funding a nesting beach project at Isabel Island, the epicenter for leatherback turtle nesting in the Solomon Islands. In this area, nearly all nests are poached, with nesting females regularly killed and consumed. With support from NOAA scientists, the Nature Conservancy has been working to restart monitoring and conservation efforts with local communities to understand and reduce poaching pressure and bolster reproductive output.
Yakushima Island, Japan
NOAA, in collaboration with the Sea Turtle Association of Japan, plans to fund a nesting beach monitoring project at Yakushima Island to assess nesting activity of North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles. The project will also work to reestablish collaborations with several high-priority coastal fisheries to reduce bycatch of loggerhead turtles in pound nets.
Over the last few years, olive ridley nesting has been identified within the Philippines for the first time. NOAA plans to support a small project with the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines to continue monitoring olive ridley nesting activity within the country. The project will also help understand and address threats from predation, poaching, and habitat loss.
Hawaiʻi Turtle and Monk Seal Projects
The Hawaiʻi-based projects are located on Maui, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, and the Island of Hawaiʻi. They support in-field response activities, population monitoring, and educational outreach for green and hawksbill sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals.
Nine multi-year grant projects and cooperative agreements were awarded in 2022 via NOAA Fisheries’ Hawaiʻi Marine Wildlife Response, Outreach, and Population Monitoring Program. These include:
- The Marine Mammal Center (2 projects)
- Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response (2 projects)
- Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute
- Mālama i nā Honu
- The Ocean Foundation
- The Honu Project - Hawaiian Hawksbills
- Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy