Good News for Greens: Beach Protection Works

By Milani Chaloupka, Karen A. Bjorndal, George H. Balazs, Alan B. Bolten, Llewellyn M. Ehrhart, Colin J. Limpus, Hiroyuki Suganuma, Sebastian Troëng, and Manami Yamaguchiin

For centuries, the world’s largest marine herbivore, the green turtle, was exploited for eggs and meat until it teetered on the edge of extinction. Now, thanks to sustained conservation efforts, encouraging news has emerged for this megaherbivore: long-term nesting beach protection works.

In a recently released study, Milani Chaloupka and his coauthors, while researching green turtles in Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, and the United States, analyzed nesting data from six of the world’s major green turtle rookeries for which there are reliable long-term data of 25 years or more. The analysis showed that green turtle nesting on four beaches in the Pacific Ocean (Ogasawara, Japan; French Frigate Shoal, Hawaii, U.S.A.; and Heron and Raine Islands, Australia) and two beaches in the Atlantic Ocean (Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, U.S.A. and Tortuguero, Costa Rica) have increased by an estimated 4 to 14 percent each year during the past two to three decades. The increases in nesting varied considerably among the rookeries, most likely because historical and current exploitation of green turtles is different at each site.

These results should be celebrated as they demonstrate that green turtle populations and presumably the green turtles’ ecosystem roles can be recovered in spite of drastic population declines in the past. Green turtles and their nests at all of the study sites have been protected for decades, underscoring the fact that conservation works—that the hard work of the researchers, community members, park rangers, and other conservationists who have spent tens of thousands of hours patrolling these six nesting beaches to protect sea turtles has paid off. The study gives hope to those working on other nesting beaches that their efforts will generate positive results if the conservation work continues for several years.

The authors of the study offer a word of caution. This good news is not ultimate news. Green turtles and nests are still poached at some of the studied sites, which could threaten the populations’ long-term recovery. Furthermore, some important green turtle nesting populations are probably still reduced from their past numbers and will require ongoing protection to ensure their full recovery.

Even so, in a world brimming with grim reports about our planet’s health, this study’s testimony that conservation works is a beacon of light for turtles and conservationists alike.