Recovery action stepdown

1: Nesting environment

While it is recognized that there is no nesting by this species in U.S. jurisdiction, we felt that a description of recovery actions should be provided so that U.S. agencies could take them into account when providing support to those nations in which U.S. stocks may nest.

1.1 Protect and manage turtles on nesting beaches.

It is prudent to preserve the capacity of a population to recover from a depleted state by protecting nesting females, their nests and hatchlings and to preserve the quality of the nesting area. The killing of gravid females, poaching of nests, predation (native and feral), destruction of the habitat through mining, destruction of vegetation, artificial lighting, development, and increased human use all degrade the ability of depleted populations to recover. Although there are no known nesting grounds for East Pacific green turtles in the U.S. Pacific, we support the efforts of Mexico and Central American nations with nesting grounds to preserve their East Pacific green turtle nesting populations. The following tasks may be used as guidelines to enhance the reproductive ability of these sea turtle populations at the nesting grounds.

1.1.1 Eliminate directed take of turtles and their eggs.

Direct take of nesting turtles and their eggs has been identified as a primary threat to Pacific sea turtle populations. Eliminating this threat is required if populations are to recover.

1.1.1.1 Reduce directed take of turtles through public education and information.

While increased law enforcement will be effective in the short term, without support of the local populace, regulations will become ineffective. Education of the public as to the value of conserving sea turtles, is a very effective way of sustaining recovery efforts and providing support for enforcement of management regulations.

1.1.1.2 Increase enforcement of laws protecting turtles by law enforcement and the courts.

Lack of adequate support for law-enforcement activities which protect sea turtle populations is common, yet it must be understood that enforcement is as important as any other resource management activities. Enforcement, judicial and prosecutorial personnel must receive adequate resources as well as instruction about sea turtles and the importance of protecting turtle populations.

1.1.2 Ensure that coastal construction activities avoid disruption of nesting and hatching activities.

Coastal construction must be monitored to minimize impact on turtle beaches, both during construction, particularly during the nesting and hatching season and in the long-term. Construction equipment must not be allowed to operate on the beach, remove sand from the beach, or in any way degrade nesting habitat. Nighttime lighting of construction areas should be prohibited during nesting and hatching seasons. In the long-term, structures should not block the turtle’s access to the beach, change beach dynamics, or encourage human activities that might interfere with the nesting process.

1.1.3 Reduce nest predation by domestic and feral animals.

Feral animals such as dogs and mongooses pose a severe threat to turtle nests and hatchlings. It is important that feral predators be controlled or eliminated from nesting areas. Domestic animals such as pigs or dogs can also threaten turtle nests and hatchlings, and should be controlled near nesting areas. In particular, domestic dogs should not be allowed to roam turtle nesting beaches unsupervised.

1.1.4 Reduce effects of artificial lighting on hatchlings and nesting females.

Because sea turtles (especially hatchlings) are extremely attracted to artificial lighting, lighting near nesting beaches should be placed in such a manner that light does not shine on the beach. If not, turtles may become disoriented and stray from their course.

1.1.4.1 Quantify effects of artificial lighting on hatchlings and nesting females.

It is important to quantify the impact of existing lighting in terms of nesting success and hatchling survival so that pragmatic mitigation can be applied. Also such study can be used to guide the development of effective lighting ordinances.

1.1.4.2 Implement, enforce, evaluate lighting regulations or other lighting control measures where appropriate.

Shielding of the light source, screening with vegetation, placing lights at lowered elevations and in some cases the use of limited spectrum low wavelength lighting (e.g., low pressure sodium vapor lights) are possible solutions to beach lighting problems. Such measures should be required by law and enforced.

1.1.5 Collect biological information on nesting turtle populations.

The collection of basic biological information on nesting is critical for making intelligent management decisions. Monitoring nesting success can help to identify problems at the nesting beach or elucidate important areas for protection. Analyzing population recruitment can help in understanding population status.

1.1.5.1 Monitor nesting activity to Identify important nesting beaches, determine number of nesting females, and determine population trends.

Important nesting beaches (based on actual number of nests) must be identified for special protection. Nesting beaches need to be identified by standardized surveys during the nesting season. Informational surveys with local residents and officials should be conducted to determine current or historical nesting beaches.

One of the most crucial techniques for determining the status of sea turtle populations and for evaluating the success of management or restoration programs is long-term monitoring of annual nesting on key beaches. The surveys must be done in a standardized and consistent manner with experienced personnel. Since female turtles show fidelity to nesting beaches, long term beach censusing provides a ready means for assessing these maternally isolated populations. However, because of long maturity times for turtles, quantifying trends in population sizes and effectiveness of any restoration program may take a generation time (20+ years) to be reflected in the annual numbers of nesters. Monitoring should thus be recognized as a long-term undertaking.

1.1.5.2 Evaluate nest success and implement appropriate nest-protection measures on important nesting beaches.

One of the simplest means to enhance populations is by increasing hatchling production at the nesting beach. The first step to such an enhancement program is to determine the nesting / hatching success and to characterize factors which may limit that success. Once those limiting factors are determined, protection or mitigation measures can be implemented. If nests must be moved to prevent loss from erosion or other threats, natural rather than artificial incubation should be employed.

1.1.5.3 Define stock boundaries for Pacific sea turtles.

Because sea turtles exhibit a unique genetic signature for each major nesting assemblage, and because nesting assemblages provide an easily censused means of monitoring population status, it is useful to use genetic analysis methods to determine stock boundaries for sea turtle populations. It also enables managers to determine which stocks are being impacted by activities far removed from the nesting beaches, and thus prioritize mitigation efforts.

1.1.5.3.1 Identify genetic stock type for major nesting beach areas.

A “genetic survey” to establish the genetic signature of each nesting population must be established, before stock ranges can be determined. Such surveys are relatively simple as they require only a small blood sample from a statistically viable number of females within each nesting population.

1.1.5.3.2 Determine nesting beach origins for juvenile and subadult populations.

Because nesting populations can form the basis for stock management, it is important to be able to pair juvenile and subadult turtles with their stock units by genetic identification. DNA analyses have begun to provide scientists and managers with this sort of data.

1.1.5.3.3 Determine the genetic relationship among East Pacific green turtle populations and within the Pacific.

The need for such study is critical to successful management of a sea turtle population as it enables resource managers to identify the entire (and often overlapping) range of each population. This type of population study can also detail the genetic diversity and viability of the populations.

1.2 Protect and manage nesting habitat.

The nesting habitat must be protected to ensure future generations of the species. Increased human presence and coastal construction can damage nesting habitat resulting in reduced nest success or reduced hatchling survival.

Once key nesting beaches are identified, they may be secured on a long-term basis in an assortment of ways. These may include conservation easements or agreements, lease of beaches, and in some cases, fee acquisition. Certain beaches may be designated as natural preserves. In some cases education of local residents may serve to adequately secure nesting beaches.

1.2.1 Prevent the degradation of nesting habitats caused by sea walls, revetments, sand bags, other erosion-control measures, jetties and breakwaters.

Beach armoring techniques that beach residents use to protect their beachfront properties from wave action may actually degrade nesting habitats by eroding beaches and preventing nesting by preventing access to nesting sites or preventing digging of the nest on the site. Guidelines on the proper placement of stonewalls must be proposed. Jetties and breakwaters impede the natural movement of sand and add to erosion problems in neighboring beaches. Regulations regarding beach construction and beach armoring should be reviewed to ensure that such measures are restricted or prohibited if adverse impacts to nesting are anticipated.

1.2.2 Eliminate sand and coral rubble removal and mining practices on nesting beaches.

Beach mining severely affects a nesting beach by reducing protection from storms, destroying native vegetation directly or indirectly and may completely destroy a nesting beach. Protective legislation and public education must be used to protect the substrate of the beaches.

1.2.3 Develop beach-landscaping guidelines which recommend planting of only native vegetation, not clearing stabilizing beach vegetation and evaluating the effects as appropriate.

Non-native vegetation may prevent access to nesting sites, prevent adequate nest digging, exacerbate erosion or affect hatchling sex ratios by altering incubation temperatures. Native vegetation, however, plays an important role in stabilizing the beach and creating the proper microclimate for nests. Guidelines for residents concerning the most appropriate plant species and the importance of a native plant base should be encouraged.

1.2.4 Ensure that beach replenishment projects are compatible with maintaining good quality nesting habitat.

Sand on sea turtle beaches has particular properties which affect hatching success (e.g., compaction, gas diffusion, temperature). Any addition or replacement of sand may change these properties and make it more difficult for females to nest or reduce hatchling success. As such, beach replenishment projects should be carefully considered, use materials similar to the native sands and be carried out outside the nesting season.

1.2.5 Implement non-mechanical beach cleaning alternatives.

Hand raking of beach debris, rather than using heavy machinery, should be encouraged on nesting beaches where cleaning is done for aesthetic reasons. The use of heavy machinery can adversely affect hatchlings directly and their nesting habitat.

1.2.6 Prevent vehicular driving on nesting beaches.

Driving on active nesting beaches should be forbidden. Vehicles cause destabilization of beaches, threaten incubating nests and leave tire ruts that hatchlings have difficulty crossing.

2: Marine environment

2.1 Protect and manage East Pacific green turtle populations in the marine habitat.

Protection of turtles in the marine environment is a priority that is often overlooked as enforcement is difficult and quantification of the problem problematic. However, 99% of a turtle’s life is spent at sea; thus, recovery must include significant efforts to protect turtles at that time. As their distribution in the marine habitat of the U.S. Pacific is limited, we must encourage and support recovery efforts in other Pacific nations where the turtle species is found.

2.1.1 Eliminate directed take of turtles.

Direct take of turtles was identified as a severe threat to population recovery in the Pacific Ocean and must be eliminated if sea turtles are to recover.

2.1.1.1 Reduce directed take of turtles through public education and information.

While increased law enforcement will be effective in the short term, without support of the local populace, regulations will become ineffective. Education of the public as to the value of conserving sea turtles, is a very effective way of sustaining recovery efforts and providing support for enforcement of management regulations. (Also see Section 4).

2.1.1.2 Increase the enforcement of protective laws on the part of law enforcement and the courts.

One of the major threats identified for turtle populations in the Pacific was the illegal harvest of turtles both on the nesting beach and in the water. Rigorous efforts in law enforcement should be undertaken immediately to reduce this source of mortality. Such efforts need to include training of enforcement personnel in the importance of protecting turtles, as well as supplying such personnel with adequate logistical support (boats, communication and surveillance equipment etc.). Judges and prosecutors must also be educated in the importance of these matters.

2.1.2 Determine distribution, abundance, and status in the marine environment.

In its review of information on sea turtle populations in the Pacific, the Recovery Team found that lack of accurate information on distribution and abundance was one of the greatest threats to sea turtle populations. While excellent information on nesting for some areas of Mexico is available, particularly in Michoacán, there is a general lack of information on the regional population size and status. We consider that gathering of basic information on distribution and abundance should be a very high priority activity toward the recovery of East Pacific green turtle populations.

2.1.2.1 Determine the distribution and abundance of post-hatchlings, juveniles and adults.

While little is known about the distribution of nesting beaches for the East Pacific green turtle, even less is understood about distribution of foraging adult and juvenile populations. Quantitative surveys of foraging areas to determine their abundance, and to identify essential habitat is of significant importance for restoration of East Pacific green turtle populations.

2.1.2.2 Determine adult migration routes and inter-nesting movements.

Like all species of sea turtle (with the possible exception of the Flatback turtle, Natator depressus), East Pacific green turtles migrate from foraging grounds to nesting beaches. These migrations often mean that the turtles move through a variety of political jurisdictions where regulations regarding the stewardship of the species may vary. To preclude the problem of contradictory management strategies by these various jurisdictions, it is important to determine the migration routes East Pacific green turtles follow between nesting and foraging areas. Satellite telemetry studies of both males and females are needed.

2.1.2.3 Determine growth rates and survivorship of hatchlings, juveniles, and adults, and age at sexual maturity.

Understanding the rates of growth and survivorship of turtle populations is crucial to the development of appropriate population models. Such models are important in understanding population status and how best to efficiently apply management efforts, in restoring depleted populations. For example, the application of stage-based modeling (Crouse et al. 1987) indicated that not enough effort was being expended on protecting juvenile sized loggerhead sea turtles in the southeastern United States and that without such protection, extensive nesting beach protection was having less positive benefit. A similar approach to understanding East Pacific green turtle populations should be undertaken, and used to guide restoration policy.

2.1.2.4 Identify current or potential threats to adults and juveniles on foraging grounds.

Little is known about threats to foraging populations of East Pacific green turtles. Studies on such threats should be undertaken immediately.

2.1.3 Reduce the effects of entanglement and ingestion of marine debris.

Entanglement due to abandoned or unmonitored fishing gear, as well as the ingestion of man-made debris is a significant problem in the marine environment.

2.1.3.1 Evaluate the extent to which sea turtles ingest persistent debris and become entangled.

Quantification of the extent to which sea turtles are impacted by marine debris should be undertaken as a first step to mitigating or preventing such impacts. The benefits of such work are that it allows the prioritization of recovery activities and it allows the activities to be efficiently targeted at the problem.

2.1.3.2 Evaluate the effects of entanglement and ingestion of persistent debris on health and viability of sea turtles.

Because of the remote nature of turtle/debris interactions, the acute and chronic effects of such interaction are not often understood. Turtles may not die immediately after ingesting certain materials, but may become debilitated. Studies to further understand the impacts of such interactions, and what age classes are affected most severely, should be undertaken immediately. As with quantifying the extent to which sea turtles ingest debris, such a program allows recovery efforts to be more efficient.

2.1.3.3 Formulate and implement measures to reduce or eliminate persistent debris and sources of entanglement in the marine environment.

Once the problem of marine debris has been identified and quantified, it is important to implement (and enforce) a program to reduce the amount of debris in the marine environment, ie. removing the problem entirely.

2.1.4 Monitor and reduce incidental mortality in the commercial and recreational fisheries.

For some areas, incidental take in fisheries has been identified as a severe threat. These mortalities are often associated with international fleets operating on the high seas, but for the coastal dwelling East Pacific green turtle it is probably most significant in nearshore waters. Monitoring of turtle take by fisheries is extremely important for two reasons. First, it allows resource managers a means to quantify the extent of the problem, and by the very act of monitoring, tends to cause commercial fishermen to be more aware of the concern over incidental take, and thereby encourage reduced take. The choice method for monitoring take is through the use of an unbiased observer program. Voluntary logbooks have not proven a reliable technique for quantifying incidental catch in commercial fisheries. Implementation of mortality reduction activities includes the use of TEDs in shrimp trawler fisheries.

2.1.5 Eliminate the harassment of turtles at sea through public education and enforcement.

Activities such as “petting” turtles and chasing them while snorkeling and scuba diving, water skiing, jet skis, vessel traffic, and vessel anchoring may disturb or displace turtles. These factors should be regulated or controlled to eliminate negative impacts, especially in sensitive and high density foraging and resting areas.

2.1.6 Study the impact of diseases on turtles.

Little is known about diseases in sea turtles, but there has been recent evidence that it may be a limiting factor in certain populations. Disease origin and transmission may not be limited to the marine environment.

2.1.6.1 Determine prevalence of fibropapillomatosis in population.

Debilitating and life threatening tumors are known to occur in populations of green turtles. The magnitude of this disease during recent years has increased substantially in some areas although the extent of the disease is unknown in the east Pacific green turtle. The etiology of the disease and effects as they relate to the viability of the population are presently unknown and need to be studied.

2.1.6.2 Investigate parasites and other infectious agents.

A variety of other diseases and parasites may be affecting sea turtles. The prevalence of such infections, their impact on sea turtles, and modes of transmissions need to be studied. Parasites include internal parasites such as blood flukes, external parasites such as leeches (Ozobranchus) and burrowing barnacles (Stephanolepas), and certain bacterial infections such as Vibrios.

2.1.7 Maintain carcass stranding network.

Stranding networks are operated generally by volunteers who monitor beaches for stranded animals. Such networks can be useful for alerting managers to incidents causing high mortality, such as an increased fishery take or disease problems, as well as providing some basic biological data.

2.1.8 Centralize administration and coordination of tagging programs.

In general, government resource management agencies can provide the continuity required to coordinate tagging programs. The responsibility of any such agency is that they act as a central distribution point for tags, tagging training and database management. It is critically important that the coordinating agency: 1. provides adequate staff to keep the program organized and respond to tag returns immediately, and 2. remain in existence for many years (20+). Without such a commitment, tagging programs have very limited usefulness, and before initiation of such a program it should be considered carefully on its scientific merits. It must be remembered that sea turtles are long-lived animals, and the most valuable information yielded by any tagging program comes from turtles which have carried identification tags for many years. Short-term tagging projects are at best very limited in the information they yield and at worst are nothing more than a form of undue harassment to the turtles.

Centralization of tag records is useful as it makes the most efficient use of limited personnel resources, allows standardization of techniques, and can act as a screening mechanism to ensure that tagging is done for valid scientific reasons.

2.2 Protect and manage marine habitat, including foraging habitats.

East Pacific green turtles inhabit a variety of marine habitats, although we are most familiar with their coastal habitat. Increased human presence in this and other sea turtle habitats have contributed to habitat degradation, primarily by coastal construction, increased recreational and fisheries use, and increased industrialization. Habitat loss and degradation must be prevented or slowed.

2.2.1 Identify important marine habitats.

These areas may include hatchling, juvenile and adult foraging areas and migratory range for all age classes. (Many of these areas will first need to be identified through actions in Section 2.1.2.1 and 2.1.2.2.)

2.2.2 Ensure the long-term protection of marine habitat.

Once marine habitats are identified, sea turtle range, refugia and foraging habitats (Sargassum beds, coral reefs or seagrass and algal beds, estuarine habitats) need to be protected to ensure long-term survival for the species. Habitats identified as important or critical should be designated as marine sanctuaries or preserves, while others may require close monitoring. The public needs to be educated on the importance of preserving these habitats.

2.2.3 Assess and prevent the degradation or destruction of reefs and seagrass beds caused by boat groundings, anchoring, and trampling by fishermen and divers.

This is not an issue for the East Pacific green turtle due to minimum amounts of such habitat within the species distribution.

2.2.4 Prevent the degradation of reef habitat caused by environmental contaminants such as sewage and other pollutants.

This is not an issue for the East Pacific green turtle due to minimum amounts of such habitat within the species distribution.

2.2.5 Prevent the degradation or destruction of marine habitats caused by dredging or disposal activities.

Dredging causes mechanical destruction of benthic habitats, adds suspended sediments that may damage algae and seagrasses and disposal of dredged materials smothers existing flora and fauna. Some types of dredging also kill turtles directly.

2.2.6 Prevent the degradation or destruction of important habitats caused by upland and coastal erosion and siltation.

These processes, often made worse by coastal construction, adversely affect coastal habitats by disrupting vital trophic processes, reducing productivity and reducing species diversity. Minimum water standards upstream must be maintained. Land-use decisions must take this into account and associated projects where erosion and siltation occur must be monitored.

2.2.7 Prevent the degradation or destruction of reefs by dynamite fishing and construction blasting.

Blasting of any nature physically damages reefs and may kill turtles. It must be monitored and/or restricted.

2.2.8 Prevent the degradation of coastal habitats caused by oil transshipment activities.

Oil spills from tankers are a possible threat both to coastal and pelagic habitats. Also, groundings or collisions of tankers and other petroleum industry vessels may physically damage reefs, perhaps more so than other vessels because of their sheer size (see Section 2.2.3). The oil and gas industry should take necessary preventive measures (e.g. double hulled tankers). Oil spill response teams should be identified for all likely areas.

2.2.9 Identify other threats to marine habitat and take appropriate actions.

Such threats to sea turtle habitat that do not fit in the previous sections or new threats must be considered and addressed.

3: Captivity

Captive care of sea turtles is common in the Pacific. Most of this care is in the form of formal rearing programs. Depending on the scale of such activities such captivity can be harmful to the wild population due to excess take from the wild, or from the potential introduction of exotic diseases or unfit genetic stocks to the wild population. Captive care should be carefully regulated to minimize such problems, and all release programs should rigorously monitor the status of released turtles to ensure their proper integration into the wild. It should be noted that to be deemed successful, wild turtles should be shown not only to survive in the wild but should also successfully reproduce. If released turtles do not reproduce, such populations will never be self sustaining.

3.1 Develop standards for the care and maintenance of sea turtles, including diet, water quality, tank size, and treatment of injury and disease.

Standards should be developed by NMFS or other appropriate agencies. Once developed, these criteria should be published and set as requirements for any sea turtle holding facility. Facilities that comply with the criteria will receive permits to hold turtles and be inspected for compliance. A manual for diagnosis and treatment of sea turtle diseases should be compiled, published and distributed to holding facilities.

3.2 Establish a catalog of all captive sea turtles to enhance use for research and education.

The FWS and NMFS should establish a catalog of turtles at all known facilities and include basic biological data and genetic origin.

3.3 Designate rehabilitation facilities.

FWS, NMFS and other appropriate agencies should designate these facilities based on the above criteria. Designation should be based on availability of appropriate veterinary personnel, compliance with standards of care and annual inspections. Recommendations should be made on when and where hatchlings or adults should be released based on the origin of rehabilitated turtles, as determined by genetic analysis (Encalada et al. 1994).

4: International cooperation

4.1 Support existing international agreements and conventions to ensure that turtles in all life stages are protected in foreign waters.

Considering that East Pacific green turtles migrate outside of U.S. territorial waters during at least part of their life cycle, an effective recovery plan must include supporting existing cooperative agreements with other nations to protect the species. Existing agreements include CITES (see next section, adopted 1973), the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere (adopted 1940), the ASEAN Agreement on the Convention of Nature and Natural Resources (adopted 1985), the Convention for the Protection of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region (SPREP convention, adopted 1986), as well as a number of conventions concerning marine pollution (Eckert, 1993).

4.2 Encourage ratification of CITES for all non-member Pacific countries, compliance with CITES requirements, and removal of sea turtle trade reservations held by member nations.

CITES is a comprehensive wildlife treaty signed by many countries that regulates and prohibits commercial import and export of wild plant and animal species that are threatened by trade. In the north Pacific signatories include 18 countries (Eckert, 1993). It is one of the most powerful international agreements concerning threatened species. The U.S. State Department, Department of Commerce and Department of Interior should work with Pacific nations to encourage non-member countries to become signatories and demand compliance with CITES requirements on sea turtles from all signatories.

4.3 Develop new international agreements to ensure that turtles in all life-stages are protected in foreign waters.

New agreements must be outlined by the FWS and NMFS, and pursued by the State Department and Department of the Interior.

4.4 Develop or continue to support informational displays in U.S. airports and ports of entry which have direct flights to Mexico and Latin America.

Airports are particularly good avenues for information about illegal trade in tortoise and tortoiseshell paraphernalia, as well as general information on sea turtle conservation. If travelers don’t purchase the items, the market for them may decrease. Agencies such as NMFS, FWS and the U.S. Customs Service should collaborate on display content and placement.