Where the Turtles Are: Award-winning Map Reveals Nesting Sites of the World’s Green Turtles

Scientists earn prestigious recognition for data & map, which will advance conservation prioritization for endangered sea turtles; collaboration by hundreds of researchers establishes unprecedented global view

A collaborative scientific effort involving hundreds of volunteers around the world over a period of seven years, has pioneered new understanding of the key nesting sites of the endangered green sea turtle, and garnered the top prize in conservation mapping for 2011.

This week Andrew DiMatteo, cartographer and database manager of the State of the World’s Sea Turtles (SWOT) Project and Associate in Research at Duke University, was announced as the grand prize winner of the International Conservation Mapping Competition by the geographic information systems (GIS) software developer Esri for his work in creating a map of green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting sites around the world.

Maggie Muurmans releases a satellite tag-equipped green turtle with local staff members in Pulau Banyak, Aceh, Indonesia. Muurmans and her colleagues are among the hundreds of contributors the State of the World’s Sea Turtles Project. © David Robinson

The award winning map is an up-to-date global snapshot of the nesting sites of the endangered green turtle, which has the broadest nesting distribution of all sea turtle species. The map was published in the recently released SWOT Report—The State of the World’s Sea Turtles, Vol. 6, and displays 1,167 nesting sites from more than 200 data contributors and published sources.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for our work and it’s my hope that this achievement will be able to draw more attention to the needs of sea turtle conservation,” DiMatteo said. The International Conservation Mapping Competition is a partnership with Esri, the Society for Conservation GIS and Conservation Magazine. All the award winning maps, which were announced in the June issue of Conservation Magazine, were selected for their visual aesthetic and the impact they can provide communities to drive conservation.

The data were collected in challenging field conditions by creative and improvisational means including by airplane, by horseback, by boat, and on foot. Hundreds of individuals and organizations from over 100 countries voluntarily contributed the data.

The map shows the prolific nature of green turtle nesting habits on the global and regional scales allowing for multiple views of the current status of specific populations. Raine Island, Australia, Tortuguero, Costa Rica, and Poilão, Guinea-Bissau were found to be among the top nesting beaches for this species.  

The award-winning map of green turtle nesting sites displays data from 1,167 nesting beaches that come from more than 200 sources. © Courtesy of SWOT

“The map is a shining example of what can be accomplished when trust and strong data sharing protocols are combined to create a useful, informative, and effective product,” said Charles Convis, the Esri Conservation Program Coordinator. “The SWOT Worldwide Green Turtle Nesting Sites map allows scientists from around the world to contribute findings and collaborate for a solution.”

The green sea turtle nesting map is the final global map in a series that documents the nesting sites and abundances of each sea turtle species, which was created through the seven-year SWOT collaboration of more than 550 partners – coordinated by Conservation International (CI), the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG), and Duke University.

“None of this would have been possible without our ‘SWOT team’ of data providers around the world in collaboration with our partners from Duke, CI, and the MTSG ,” DiMatteo added.

“Visualizing knowledge on green turtle nesting grounds around the world has increased international cooperation and exchange of knowledge about this endangered species,” said Maggie Muurmans, director of the local non-profit Yayasan Pulau Banyak in Aceh, Indonesia and data contributor to SWOT. “This allows information from hundreds of conservation projects to be readily available to individual sea turtle conservationists around the world.”

Baby green turtle (Chelonia mydas) hatchling in Guyana © Roderic B Mast

“We are finally observing a change in human attitudes towards these incredible animals” said Dr. Bryan Wallace, Scientific Director of CI’s Marine Flagship Species Program.  “Where once they were primarily valued as a resource to be exploited, they are now earning their due respect as ecosystem engineers, and indicators of ocean health and processes.”

The SWOT VI Report, including the map of Worldwide Green Turtle Nesting Sites and information on the nesting and habits of the other six species of sea turtles, is available here.  The entire SWOT Database can be interacted with on the OBIS-SEAMAP website here.

[Source: Conservation International press release]