Decades of conservation efforts have paid off for green sea turtles in Florida and Mexico. In the late 1970s, populations dwindled due to heavy commercial harvesting of turtle eggs and meat – but protection programs have helped numbers increase to the thousands. As a result of the population growth, the species has been elevated from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act. Although the turtles will continue to be protected, they are no longer on the brink of extinction.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced there are now 2,250 nesting females in Florida alone, up from just a handful in 1978. A motion to lift the green sea turtles’ endangered status was proposed last year, and FWS issued its final decision this week, recognizing the success of conservation efforts. In addition to the change in status for the species, FWS and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries have subdivided the turtles into 11 population segments, so that turtles in different areas can be protected based upon the unique threats they face.
Although the situation for green sea turtles is vastly improved in Florida and Mexico, populations are still in trouble elsewhere in the world. Three distinct populations in the Mediterranean Sea, the Central South Pacific, and Central West Pacific Ocean are still considered endangered. Conservationists hope the success story in North America will lead the way to restoring other populations of sea turtles.
“Successful conservation and management efforts developed in Florida and along the Pacific coast of Mexico are a roadmap for further recovery strategies of green turtle populations around the world,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Identifying distinct population segments across the green sea turtle’s range provides flexibility for managers to address specific challenges facing individual populations with a tailored approach. Ultimately, this will help us protect and conserve green sea turtles more efficiently and effectively, so that we can achieve our goal of recovering the species.”
Images via NOAA