Minimum Data Standards for Nesting Beach Monitoring

Field researchers observe a nesting loggerhead turtle in Greece. Photo taken during ARCHELON night survey. © Kostas Papafitsoros

Field researchers observe a nesting loggerhead turtle in Greece. Photo taken during ARCHELON night survey. © Kostas Papafitsoros


Although there has been some standardization of the protocols used to monitor sea turtle nesting beaches, no global standards have been adopted. The result is that different projects collect different types of data (e.g. nests vs. females vs. crawls vs. activities, etc.) and use different methods and levels of effort to collect the data (e.g. night patrols vs. morning crawl counts vs. partial season coverage, etc.), which make results largely incompatible from beach to beach or project to project.

With this in mind, the SWOT Scientific Advisory Board recognized the need to establish minimum data standards for nesting data provided to the SWOT database to: a) identify datasets that could be included in future analyses of abundance and long-term trends, and b) provide SWOT Team members (i.e. data providers) with guidelines for improving their existing monitoring schemes to enhance effectiveness of documenting local temporal sea turtle nesting abundance patterns.

Follow the links below to access these reports and several useful resources that describe the Minimum Data Standards recommendations as well as SWOT's new data classification system.


Minimum Data Standards Handbook

Minimum Data Standards - Field Handbook (English)

This handbook summarizes the SWOT minimum data standards results in an easy-to-use, stepwise format. The central feature of the handbook is the Decision Key on pages 10–11, which is a handy guide so nesting beach monitoring projects can identify recommended monitoring protocols for their specific circumstances and determine whether their current efforts meet SWOT’s minimum data standards.

Estándares de datos mínimos - Manual de campo (ESPañol)

Este manual condensa los resultados de los estándares de datos mínimos en un formato secuencial fácil de usar. El elemento central de este manual es la Clave de decisión incluida en las páginas 10–11, la cual es una guía bastante útil para los proyectos de monitoreo de playas de anidación en la identificación de los protocolos de monitoreo recomendados para sus circunstancias específicas y/o determinar si sus esfuerzos actuales cumplen con los estándares de datos mínimos de SWOT.

Normes minimales en matière de données - Manuel ( Français )

Ce manuel présente les normes minimales de SWOT en matière de données étape par étape et sous une forme pratique. La partie centrale du manuel consiste en une table de décision en pages 10–11, un outil pratique qui permet aux projets de suivi d’identifier des protocoles recommandés pour leur contexte spécifique et/ou de déterminer si les efforts qu’ils entreprennent respectent les normes minimales de SWOT.


Find the right monitoring protocol for you, or assess your current protocol

To help you identify an appropriate nesting beach monitoring protocol for your circumstances, or to assess whether your current protocol meets SWOT's minimum data standards, please review the Decision Key (also found in the MDS Handbook).

Minimum Data Standards Technical Report (white paperS)

The full Technical Report explains in detail the background, methods, results, and recommendations generated by the SWOT Scientific Advisory Board for minimum standards for nesting beach monitoring.

Example of a recommended monitoring protocol.

As part of the development of the SWOT Minimum Data Standards recommendations, SWOT commissioned two studies to answer key questions needed to define a minimum level of effort for nesting beach monitoring: 1) for how long (how many seasons) must you monitor a nesting population in order to detect a statistically valid population trend?, and 2) what is the minimum number of nights/days of beach monitoring required during a nesting season to yield nesting population abundance estimates with sufficiently low error to be useful in trend analysis? The resulting white papers authored by Mathilde Russo and Marc Girondot sought to answer these questions—download them here.

Free Software To estimate total seasonal nesting abundance from incomplete data

To generate seasonal abundance estimates for your nesting data, we provide below free software created by Professor Marc Girondot. This software package is a user-friendly interface that allows data providers to simply drop in a *.txt file of their nest counts by date counted to obtain estimates of total abundance for a season, with confidence intervals. This tool is especially useful in situations where it was not possible to monitor a nesting beach throughout the entire nesting season, as it uses statistical modeling to “fill in the gaps” in your seasonal dataset and generate an estimate of total abundance with associated confidence intervals. These data can be emailed directly to the SWOT Database Manager for inclusion into the SWOT database.


The recommendations contained in the above documents describe monitoring protocols, but not specific methods used to count and assess sea turtle nesting activities. For detailed descriptions of methods, see Research and Management Techniques for the Conservation of Sea Turtles (Eckert et al. 1999).

  • Click here to download the IUCN/MTSG Research and Techniques Manual in English

  • Click here to download the IUCN/MTSG Research and Techniques Manual in Spanish

 If you have any problems downloading or opening these resources, please contact the SWOT Database Manager.



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