Centuries of exploitation have depleted sea turtle populations to a fraction of their historical numbers. Successful conservation depends on protection of these endangered species, their habitat and predators – all of which vary greatly among coastal communities. The continued decline of sharks, sea turtles’ natural predators, and human driven changes in habitat can affect turtle behavior and habitat use.
The Heithaus Lab has been involved in sea turtle research since 1997 when initial studies began as part of the Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project (SBERP) in Western Australia.
Due to anthropogenic stressors, hawksbill populations have decreased over 80% in the last 100 years and are listed as a Critically Endangered species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Stressors include the tortoiseshell trade, egg collection, harvest for meat, destruction of nesting and foraging habitats, ingestion of marine debris, oil pollution and bycatch in fishing gear. It is imperative to understand the current distributions of these endangered turtles along with the human and environmental factors that influence their current and potential future distributions to promote population recovery. We will use the information collected from our studies in Nosy Be, Madagascar to create a National Plan of Action for the protection of hawksbill sea turtles of Madagascar in order to mitigate detrimental human factors influencing their distribution.