SWOT was hatched in 2003 by Conservation International, the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group, the International Sea Turtle Society, and Duke University. The four institutions united to form the State of the World’s Sea Turtles (SWOT) project, an initiative designed to address a critical, longstanding barrier to effective sea turtle conservation: the lack of a comprehensive, up-to-date, global perspective of sea turtle distribution and status.

Prior to SWOT, the vast majority of sea turtle research and conservation efforts were focused in a localized manner, limited to individual countries, ocean basins, or even specific beaches. SWOT was created in order to meet the vital challenge of bringing the worldwide sea turtle community together to share information and develop comprehensive global conservation plans.

From the beginning, SWOT’s founders knew that addressing this challenge would be a monumental task, requiring the participation of every possible individual and organization in the field, and taking many years to complete. Our solution was to take a long-term, stepwise approach that would enable us to move toward our goal in focused and meaningful steps.


We set out to take the first step by documenting one species, the leatherback, during one year, 2004-2005, and during one life stage, nesting. We tracked down researchers and conservationists at every known leatherback nesting site worldwide and invited them to join the SWOT effort by contributing a single year of nesting data from the most recent nesting season. In 2006, we published our result—the first-ever global map of leatherback nesting sites and abundance—as the centerpiece of the first annual State of the World’s Sea Turtles (SWOT) Report. Though this first map had some gaps, it provided a tremendous proof of concept and a jumping off point from which to develop similar maps for all seven sea turtle species.

We also published SWOT Report, vol. I, which was launched and distributed to attendees at the 26th Annual Sea Turtle Symposium in Crete, Greece in April 2006, and mailed out to partners worldwide, free-of-charge. Through this process, the concept for the annual SWOT Report was solidified: to use beautiful design, images, and maps to share useful information about sea turtles among researchers, conservationists and enthusiasts worldwide, and to create an engaging tool to support local outreach and education.

Through this collaboration, SWOT took form, and it has been evolving ever since, with new partners recruited each year, and new information added to the global picture.


In 2007, we updated the global leatherback nesting map and published it in SWOT Report, vol. II in 2007, along with the first-ever global map of loggerhead nesting sites and abundance. We followed with similar maps of global nesting biogeography for all other sea turtle species, including hawksbills (2008), flatbacks (2009), olive and Kemp’s ridleys (2010), and green turtles (2011), and simultaneously continued to grow SWOT’s network of partners and data contributors.

In 2007, we

In 2011 we were awarded Esri’s International Conservation Mapping Grand Prize for our map Global Nesting of Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas)


 In 2012, Oceanic Society, a non-profit based in the San Francisco Bay area, took on the management of the SWOT program. Step by step, SWOT and its partners are realizing their ambitious goal.