A brighter future? Stable and growing sea turtle populations in the Republic of Maldives

PLoS ONE(2023)

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The Indian Ocean represents a significant data gap in the evaluation of sea turtle population status and trends. Like many small island states, the Republic of Maldives has limited baseline data, capacity and resources to gather information on sea turtle abundance, distribution and trends to evaluate their conservation status. We applied a Robust Design methodology to convert opportunistic photographic identification records into estimates of abundance and key demographic parameters for hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the Republic of Maldives. Photographs were collected ad hoc by marine biologists and citizen scientists around the country from May 2016 to November 2019. Across 10 sites in four atolls, we identified 325 unique hawksbill turtles and 291 unique green turtles-where most were juveniles. Our analyses suggest that, even when controlling for survey effort and detectability dynamics, the populations of both species are stable and/or increasing in the short term at many reefs in the Maldives and the country appears to provide excellent habitat for recruiting juvenile turtles of both species. Our results represent one of the first empirical estimations of sea turtle population trends that account for detectability. This approach provides a cost-effective way for small island states in the Global South to evaluate threats to wildlife while accounting for biases inherent in community science data.
sea turtle populations,maldives
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