New Standards for SWOT Data
As of 2011, the SWOT database has expanded to include more than 5,700 individual data records contributed by more than 550 data providers (and literature sources) from more than 2,800 distinct nesting beaches. As such, it is currently the most comprehensive global sea turtle nesting database in existence, and it is well positioned to serve as the world’s premier data clearinghouse and monitoring system for sea turtles. With this in mind, the SWOT Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) recognized the need to establish minimum standards for data provided to the database (a) to identify datasets that could be included in future analyses of abundance and long-term trends; and (b) to provide SWOT Team members (that is, data providers) with guidelines for improving their existing monitoring schemes to enhance the effectiveness of documenting local, temporal patterns of sea turtle nesting abundance.
First, the SAB emphasized that the “gold standard” for sea turtle population monitoring programs are long-term, capture-mark-recapture (CMR) studies on nesting beaches, as well as foraging areas for populations. Comprehensive CMR studies facilitate robust abundance assessments and diagnoses of population trends, which, in turn, inform effective conservation management efforts.
Second, because nesting beach abundance data are an essential component to population assessments and are the data type contributed to the SWOT database, the SAB defined minimum data standards for nesting beach monitoring programs, which included the following: (a) the units for reporting sea turtle nesting beach count data and conversions among units; (b) the allowable level of error in seasonal nest abundance estimates; (c) the minimum standards for monitoring efforts to generate abundance estimates with acceptable levels of variation (that is, to meet item b); (d) a modeling software program that generates total seasonal abundance estimates from partial counts, which will both assist data providers and populate the SWOT database; and (e) a classification system to label individual data records according to whether the monitoring schemes associated with those records meet the minimum standards. To ensure a smooth transition to the next generation of the SWOT database, relevant resources—including reports, papers, species identification guides, and modeling software—will be available for SWOT Team members on the SWOT Web site at https://www.seaturtlestatus.org/minimum-data-standards
Taken together, the initiatives for SWOT minimum data standards provide SWOT Team members with guidelines and resources for improving the existing sea turtle nesting beach monitoring schemes, make the SWOT database more sophisticated with respect to dealing with the wide variation in quality of provided data, and lay the groundwork for future analyses of sea turtle abundance and population trends. Achieving those goals will allow SWOT to play a critical role in network building and conservation status assessments for years to come.
This article originally appeared in SWOT Report, vol. 6 (2011). Click here to download the entire article as a PDF.