In the study, the researchers reviewed data from peer-reviewed journal articles, archived media reports, NGO reports and online questionnaires to determine a comprehensive look at existing information on exploited sea turtles. The study revealed additional patterns and trends that may assist in determining conservation management priorities. For example, Vietnam was the most common country of origin for illegal sea turtle trafficking, while China and Japan served as destinations for nearly all trafficked sea turtle products. Similarly, Vietnam to China was the most common trade route across all three decades.  

Across the 30-year study period, 95% of poached sea turtles came from two species — green and hawksbill turtles — both of which are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Also, Southeast Asia and Madagascar emerged as major hot spots for illegal sea turtle take and trade, particularly for critically endangered hawksbills, which are prized in the illicit wildlife trade for their beautiful shells.

"Our assessment is an important foundation for future research and outreach efforts regarding illegal sea turtle exploitation. We believe this study can help conservation practitioners and legislators prioritize conservation efforts and allocate their resources to best help protect sea turtle populations from harmful levels of exploitation worldwide," Burgher says.

The research team says much more needs to be done to sustain global biodiversity.

“Increased support for governments lacking the resources to protect sea turtles is needed, along with support for communities to sustain human well-being in the face of restrictions or bans on sea turtle exploitation. We must develop conservation strategies that benefit both people and turtles,” Senko says.

The ASU School for the Future of Innovation in Society is a unit of the College of Global Futures, within the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at ASU.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise