Marine Turtles

The Wider Caribbean Region once supported populations of sea turtles that numbered in the millions. Seventeenth and eighteenth century mariner records document flotillas of turtles so dense and vast that net fishing was impossible, even the movement of ships was curtailed. Today some of the largest breeding populations the world has ever known are virtually gone; for example, the green turtles of the Cayman Islands. It is clear that sea turtles cannot survive the next century without unflinching regional cooperation and coordination of conservation and management programs. Everyone has a role to play!

Sea turtles, once abundant in the Caribbean Sea and serving as keystone species in tropical marine ecosystems, are severely reduced from historical levels, both in population size and range. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, persistent over-exploitation, especially of adult females, and widespread collection of eggs are primarily responsible for observed declines at regional and global scales. In addition to a largely unmanaged harvest that has spanned centuries, sea turtles are accidentally captured in active or abandoned fishing gear, resulting in death to tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of turtles annually. Moreover, coral reef and seagrass degradation, oil spills, chemical waste, persistent plastic and other marine debris, high density coastal development, and an increase in ocean-based tourism have damaged or eliminated nesting beaches and feeding areas.

Reversing population declines is complicated. Threats to sea turtle populations can accumulate over long periods of time, and can occur anywhere in the population’s range. Because sea turtles are highly migratory by habit, what appears as a decline in a local population may be a direct consequence of the activities of peoples many hundreds or thousands or kilometers away. Thus while local conservation is crucial, cooperative action is also called for at international levels.

What does the CEP do

To adequately protect migratory sea turtles and achieve the objectives of Caribbean Environment Programme’s Regional Programme for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW), the CEP promotes the development of management plans for economically and ecologically important species.  This is consistent with Article 10 of the SPAW Protocol, which specifies that Parties "carry out recovery, management, planning and other measures to effect the survival of [endangered or threatened] species" and regulate or prohibit activities having "adverse effects on such species or their habitats." All sea turtles found in the Caribbean are listed in SPAW Annex II.

In 1990, UNEP partnered with WIDECAST to launch the Caribbean's first series of national species recovery plans ­ and focused on sea turtles.  Each Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plan (STRAP) follows a standard outline and is published in the CEP Technical Report Series.  STRAPs summarize sea turtle distribution, discuss major causes of mortality, evaluate the effectiveness of existing conservation laws, and prioritize implementing measures for recovery. The objective of the recovery action plan series is not only to assist Caribbean governments in the discharge of their obligations under the SPAW Protocol, but also to promote a regional capability to implement science-based sea turtle management and conservation programs.

Earlier this year, the latest in the STRAP series -- Plan de Accion para la Recuperacion de las Tortugas Marinas del Caribe de Panama -- was completed and is now available in the CEP Technical Report series.

The direct involvement of resident scientists, conservationists, enforcement officers, policy-makers, fishermen, teachers and others in the development of the action plan results in an informed advocacy body that, ideally, will promote implementation of the action plan. Each STRAP follows a standard format, thereby serving not only as a blueprint for national action, but for harmonized regional action as well.

CEP Technical Reports: Sea Turtle Recovery Action Plans


Contact: Dr. Karen Eckert

Turning the Tide: Exploitation, Trade and Management of Marine Turtles in the Lesser Antilles, Central America, Colombia and Venezuela (5 MB) Amie Bräutigam, Karen L. Eckert. (June 2007). 534pp. ISBN 1 85850 223 3 (ISBN 978 1 85850 223 6). This comprehensive review of exploitation, trade and management of marine turtles in the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) highlights findings related to the legal framework for marine turtle management, patterns of domestic exploitation and use and international trade, and a variety of core management issues, including population monitoring, fishery controls and law enforcement. Published by: TRAFFIC International Commissioned by: The CITES Secretariat.


Tourists, Turtles and Trinkets: a look at the trade in marine turtle products in the Dominican Republic and Colombia: A Report from the Field Adrian Reuter, Crawford Allan. (July 2006). 12pp. In March 2006 TRAFFIC investigated the trade in marine turtle products, with a focus on Hawksbill Turtle shell items, in the Dominican Republic and Columbia, which have become popular tourist destinations. Results show that trade and availability of marine turtle items in these Caribbean countries is an issue of concern, and might indicate ongoing illegal take and trade in marine turtles.


Choi, Ga-Young, y Karen L. Eckert. 2009. Manual de Mejores Practicas para la Proteccion de Playas de Anidacion de Tortugas Marinas.  Red de Conservacion de Tortugas Marinas en el Gran Caribe (WIDECAST). Informe Tecnico No. 9. Ballwin, Missouri. 96 pp.

Please visit for a full list of WIDECAST publications.