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A global review of marine turtle entanglement in anthropogenic debris: A baseline for further action


Abstract and Figures

Entanglement in anthropogenic debris poses a threat to marine wildlife. Although this is recognised as a cause of marine turtle mortality, there remain quantitative knowledge gaps on entanglement rates and population implications. We provide a global summary of this issue in this taxon using a mixed methods approach including a literature review and expert opinions from conservation scientists and practitioners worldwide. The literature review yielded 23 reports of marine turtle entanglement in anthropogenic debris, which included records for 6 species, in all ocean basins. Our experts reported the occurrence of marine turtles found entangled across all species, life stages and ocean basins, with suggestions of particular vulnerability in pelagic juvenile life stages. Numbers of stranded turtles encountered by our 106 respondents were in the thousands per year, with 5.5% of turtles encountered entangled; 90.6% of these dead. Of our experts questioned, 84% consider that this issue could be causing population level effects in some areas. Lost or discarded fishing materials, known as ‘ghost gear’, contributed to the majority of reported entanglements with debris from land-based sources in the distinct minority. Surveyed experts rated entanglement a greater threat to marine turtles than oil pollution, climate change and direct exploitation but less of a threat than plastic ingestion and fisheries bycatch. The challenges, research needs and priority actions facing marine turtle entanglement are discussed as pathways to begin to resolve and further understand the issue. Collaboration among stakeholder groups such as strandings networks, the fisheries sector and the scientific community will facilitate the development of mitigating actions.
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Endang Species Res
Vol. 34: 431–448, 2017 Published December 11
Marine plastic pollution
Anthropogenic materials, the majority of them plas-
tic, are accumulating on the surface of the oceans, in
the water column and on the seabed (Thompson et al.
2004). The durability of plastic means that it may per-
sist for centuries (Barnes et al. 2009). It is estimated
that 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste could be
entering the marine environment annually (Jambeck
et al. 2015). Over 700 marine species have been
demonstrated to interact with marine plastic pollution
(Gall & Thompson 2015), which presents a risk to ani-
© The authors 2017. Open Access under Creative Commons by
Attribution Licence. Use, distribution and reproduction are un -
restricted. Authors and original publication must be credited.
Publisher: Inter-Research ·
*These authors contributed equally to this work
**Corresponding author:
A global review of marine turtle
entanglement in anthropogenic debris:
a baseline for further action
Emily M. Duncan1,2, 3,*, Zara L. R. Botterell1,*, Annette C. Broderick1,
Tamara S. Galloway2, Penelope K. Lindeque3, Ana Nuno1, Brendan J. Godley1,**
1Marine Turtle Research Group, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn TR10 9FE, UK
2Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Geoffrey Pope Building, University of Exeter, Stocker Road,
Exeter EX4 4QD, UK
3Marine Ecology and Biodiversity, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Prospect Place, West Hoe, Plymouth PL1 3DH, UK
ABSTRACT: Entanglement in anthropogenic debris poses a threat to marine wildlife. Although
this is recognised as a cause of marine turtle mortality, there remain quantitative knowledge gaps
on entanglement rates and population implications. We provide a global summary of this issue in
this taxon using a mixed methods approach, including a literature review and expert opinions
from conservation scientists and practitioners worldwide. The literature review yielded 23 reports
of marine turtle entanglement in anthropogenic debris, which included records for 6 species, in all
ocean basins. Our experts reported the occurrence of marine turtles found entangled across all
species, life stages and ocean basins, with suggestions of particular vulnerability in pelagic juve-
nile life stages. Numbers of stranded turtles encountered by our 106 respondents were in the thou-
sands per year, with 5.5% of turtles encountered entangled; 90.6% of these dead. Of our experts
questioned, 84% consider that this issue could be causing population level effects in some areas.
Lost or discarded fishing materials, known as ‘ghost gear’, contributed to the majority of reported
entanglements with debris from land-based sources in the distinct minority. Surveyed experts
rated entanglement a greater threat to marine turtles than oil pollution, climate change and direct
exploitation but less of a threat than plastic ingestion and fisheries bycatch. The challenges,
research needs and priority actions facing marine turtle entanglement are discussed as pathways
to begin to resolve and further understand the issue. Collaboration among stakeholder groups
such as strandings networks, the fisheries sector and the scientific community will facilitate the
development of mitigating actions.
KEY WORDS: Conservation · Entanglement · Ghost fishing · Marine debris · Plastic pollution ·
Sea turtle · Strandings
Endang Species Res 34: 431–448, 2017
mals through ingestion, entanglement, degradation of
key habitats and wider ecosystem effects (Nelms et al.
2016). Megafauna such as marine turtles with complex
life histories and highly mobile behaviour are particu-
larly vulnerable to its impacts (Schuyler et al. 2014).
Entanglement in marine litter
Entanglement in plastic debris is recognised as a
major risk for many marine species (Laist 1987,
Vegter et al. 2014). This has become sufficiently high
profile that the European Union’s Marine Strategy
Framework Directive (MSFD) Technical Subgroup
on Marine Litter has announced that it will develop a
dedicated monitoring protocol for its next report
(MSFD GES Technical Subgroup on Marine Litter
2011). Entanglement has the potential to cause a
range of fatal and non-fatal impacts such as serious
wounds leading to maiming, amputation, increased
drag, restricted movement or choking (Votier et al.
2011, Barreiros & Raykov 2014, Lawson et al. 2015).
Types of marine debris causing entanglement
The debris causing this entanglement falls into 2
broad categories. Firstly, hundreds of tons of fishing
gear are lost, abandoned or discarded annually,
forming ‘ghost gear’ which passively drifts over large
distances, sometimes indiscriminately ‘fishing’ mar-
ine organisms (Macfadyen et al. 2009, Wilcox et al.
2013). This gear is commonly made of non-bio -
degradable synthetic material that will persist in the
marine environment, potentially become biofouled
by marine organisms and act as a fish aggregating
device (FAD), attracting both grazers and predators
such as marine turtles (Filmalter et al. 2013, Wilcox et
al. 2013). It is important to distinguish here between
‘entanglement’ and ‘bycatch’. Bycatch can be de -
fined as unselective catch of either unused or unman-
aged species during fishing, with a particular focus
on ‘active’ gear, whereas ghost gear can be defined
as equipment of which the fisher has lost operational
control (Smolowitz 1978, Davies et al. 2009). There-
fore, here we consider animals caught in passive
ghost fishing gear as entangled, not bycaught. Sec-
ondly, there have also been reports of entanglement
in litter from land-based sources (Chatto 1995, Ben-
tivegna 1995, Santos et al. 2015). In this review we do
not include bycaught turtles only those that have
become entangled in passive anthropogenic debris
such as ghost gear or land-based debris.
Current knowledge gaps regarding
turtle entanglement
Despite turtle entanglement being recognised as
one of the major sources of turtle mortality in north-
ern Australia and the Mediterranean, there is a quan-
titative knowledge gap with respect to the entangle-
ment rates and possible implications in terms of global
populations (Casale et al. 2010, Wilcox et al. 2013,
Camedda et al. 2014, Gilman et al. 2016). A re cent lit-
erature review by Nelms et al. (2016) returned only 9
peer-reviewed publications on marine debris entan-
glement and turtles (Bentivegna 1995, Chatto 1995,
López-Jurado et al. 2003, Casale et al. 2010, Santos et
al. 2012, Jensen et al. 2013, Wilcox et al. 2013, 2015,
Barreiros & Raykov 2014). Of these, 7 were focused
on ghost fishing gear, highlighting the distinct lack of
knowledge of entanglement in debris from land-
based sources. Even fewer of these studies focused
on the potential variable susceptibility among life
stages or species, with only one paper, Santos et al.
(2012), reporting that the majority of entangled olive
ridley turtles Lepidochelys olivacea on the Brazilian
islands of Fernando de Noronha and Atol das Rocas
were sub-adults and adults.
Research rationale in terms of marine turtles
and pollution
In terms of global research priorities for sea turtle
conservation and management, understanding the
impact of pollution is considered of high importance
(Hamann et al. 2010, Rees et al. 2016). To evaluate
this effectively, the impact of anthropogenic debris,
specifically, must be considered at a species and pop-
ulation level. Additionally, it is important to under-
stand the variation in entanglement rates among
species and life stages to better evaluate vulnerabil-
ity and the frequency of interactions with different
debris types (Nelms et al. 2016). Once these have
been established, opportunities for delivering effec-
tive education and awareness can be given or other
mitigation planned (Vegter et al. 2014).
Here, we define marine turtle entanglement as
‘the process under which a marine turtle becomes
entwined or trapped within anthropogenic materi-
als.’ We sought to include discarded fishing gear
(ghost fishing) as well as land-based sources. The
aim of this study was to (1) review existing, and
obtain new, reports of the occurrence and global spa-
tial distribution of marine turtle entanglement; (2)
gain insights into patterns of species, life stage and
Duncan et al.: Marine turtle entanglement
debris type involved across entanglement cases; and
(3) glean an insight into the change in prevalence of
marine debris entanglement over time. To address
these, a mixed methods approach was employed, in -
volving a literature review and an elicitation of ex -
pert opinions. Given the difficulty of acquiring robust
standardised data, this review is intended to high-
light the value of mixed methods as a first step to
understand complex conservation issues, and to pro-
vide suggestive yet relevant indications as to the
scale of the threat of entanglement to marine turtles.
Literature review
In January 2016 and again in June 2017 (during the
manuscript review process), all relevant literature
was reviewed that may have contained records of
marine turtle entanglement. ISI Web of Knowledge,
Google Scholar and the Marine Turtle Newsletter
( were searched for the terms ‘en -
tanglement’, ‘entrapment’, ‘ensnare’ or ‘ghost fishing’
and ‘turtle’. The first 200 results were viewed, with
results very rarely fulfilling the criteria after the first
20; spurious hits were ignored and all relevant refer-
ences were recorded and investigated.
Elicitation of expert opinions
During the period 1–30 April 2016, an online ques-
tionnaire survey was conducted to investigate 3 main
topics of interest: (1) the occurrence and global spa-
tial distribution of sea turtle entanglement; (2) spe-
cies, life stage and debris type involved; and (3) the
change in entanglement prevalence over time. A
total of 20 questions requiring both open and closed
responses from a range of experts were used to
obtain insight into the scale of marine turtle entan-
glement. We clearly explained to the respondents the
definition of ‘marine turtle entanglement’ specific to
this study. Grid-like responses and Likert scales,
offering potential answers from a range of ordinal
options, were used to aid in achieving a quantitative
assessment of the issues (Elaine & Seaman 2007) (see
Box S1 in the Supplement at www. int-res. com/
articles/ suppl/ n034 p431 _ supp. pdf).
Potential participants for this questionnaire were
identified from lead authorship of papers compiled in
the recent review on the effects of marine plastic
debris on turtles from Nelms et al. (2016), and our
review due to their involvement in research into
marine debris. From reviewing the few published
reports, it was apparent that governmental stranding
networks, sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation centres
and conservation projects may also hold many un -
published records of entanglement occurrence. A
comprehensive list of such organisations from sea - (; accessed 24
March 2016) was used to find more expert contacts to
participate in the questionnaire. Additionally, con-
sidering the aim of attaining an appropriate number
of respondents while avoiding potential sampling
biases due to researchers’ personal networks and per-
ceptions about the issue (Newing 2011), we employed
respondent-driven sampling; this purposive sam-
pling approach involves requesting those directly
contacted to recruit additional participants among
colleagues, peers and other organisations that may
have knowledge of additional records of marine
turtle entanglement.
From this first questionnaire, an initial report was
produced and sent to the expert respondents (n =
106) to share the results and thoughts that arose from
the first questionnaire. This included 8 initial figures
produced from the data given by respondents in the
original questionnaire to aid feedback of our results
(these were draft versions of Figs. 2, 3 & 4). Following
this, during the period 24 May to 30 June 2016, a fol-
low-up questionnaire survey was conducted with the
expert participants of the first questionnaire survey
who were then invited to comment and answer 10
open and closed questions (see Box S2 in the Supple-
ment). This aimed to further understand the chal-
lenges, future requirements (both research and prior-
ity actions) and perceptions of the likelihood of
population level effects of marine turtle entangle-
ment. In this second questionnaire, respondents
were asked to comment on our initial results and to
provide suggestions on future knowledge gains and
actions. Their answers were categorised using an
inductive approach; summary themes were identi-
fied through the process of directly examining the
data (Elo & Kyngäs 2008), instead of having pre-
defined categories.
Literature review
Our literature search yielded 23 reports regarding
entanglement in multiple species of marine turtles,
the majority of which were peer-reviewed publica-
Endang Species Res 34: 431–448, 2017
tions (n = 17) with additional grey literature reports
(n = 6). Species included loggerhead Caretta caretta
(n = 7), green Chelonia mydas (n = 7), leatherback
Dermochelys coriacea (n = 5), hawksbill Eretmo -
chelys imbricata (n = 5), olive ridley Lepido chelys oli-
vacea (n = 9) and flatback Natator depressus (n = 2).
There were no records for Kemp’s ridley Lepi-
dochelys kempii (Table 1). Of these publications, 18
reported entanglement due to ghost fishing or fish-
eries materials and 7 recorded entanglement in land-
based plastic debris; 7 publications reported the size
range and life stage of the entangled turtles. These
publications highlighted a range of impacts of entan-
glement, such as serious wounds leading to maiming,
amputation or death, increased drag, restricted
movement or choking that were further illustrated by
photographs from collaborating experts (Fig. 1).
Elicitation of expert opinions
Survey response rates and demographics
From an estimated pool of ca. 500 potential contacts,
the ‘Marine Turtle Entanglement Questionnaire’ was
received and completed by a total of 106 expert re-
spondents from 43 countries. However, due to the
anonymous nature of the survey and the potential
augmentation from the use of respondent-driven sam-
pling, it is not possible to determine how many of
those initially contacted took part in the survey. All
ocean basins were covered; the respondents’ main
oceanic region of work was given as: Atlantic (34.8%;
n = 39), Pacific (18.9%; n = 20), Caribbean (25.5%;
n = 27), Mediterranean (9.4%; n = 10) and Indian
(9.4%; n = 10). Respondents experienced a wide
Fig. 1. Impacts of marine turtle entanglement: (a) live leatherback turtle entangled in fishing ropes which increases drag,
Grenada 2014 (photo: Kate Charles, Ocean Spirits); (b) drowned green turtle entangled in ghost nets in Uruguay (photo:
Karumbe); (c) live hawksbill turtle entangled in fishing material constricting shell growth, Kaeyama Island, Japan 2001 (photo:
Sea Turtle Association of Japan); (d) live hawksbill turtle with anthropogenic debris wrapped around front left flipper con-
stricting usage of limb which could lead to amputation and infection, Kaeyama Island, Japan 2015 (photo: Sea Turtle Associa-
tion of Japan). All photos used with express permission
Duncan et al.: Marine turtle entanglement 435
Ocean basin/ Study area Reference Year of N CCL Pelagic Neritic Adult Debris
Species study range juvenile juvenile type
Loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta
Atlantic Ocean Northeastern (Boa Vista, López-Jurado et al. (2003) 2001 10 62.0−89.0 X ✓✓Fishing
Cape Verde Islands)
Northeastern Barreiros & Raykov (2014) 2004 −2008 3 37.3−64.1 X ✓✓Fishing/land-based
(Terceira Island, Azores)
Northeastern Orós et al. (2016) 1998−2014 945 Unknown ✓✓Fishing/land-based
(Gran Canaria, Spain)
Mediterranean Tyrrhenian sea Bentivegna (1995) 1994 1 48.5 X X Land-based
Sea (Island of Panarea, Sicily)
Central Mediterranean (Italy) Casale et al. (2010) 1980−2008 226 3.8−97.0 ✓✓Fishing/land-based
South Tyrrhenian sea Blasi & Mattei (2017) 2009−2013 5 Unknown na na na Fishing/land-based
Global Balazs (1985) 1967−1984 5 Unknown ✓✓Fishing
Green turtle Chelonia mydas
Indian Ocean North (Maldives) Stelfox & Hudgins (2015) 2013−2015 2 Unknown na na na Fishing
Northeastern (Darwin, Australia) Chatto (1995) 1994 1 35 X X Fishing
Northeastern (Australia) Wilcox et al. (2013) 2005−2009 14 Unknown na na na Fishing
Global Balazs (1985) 1967−1984 24 Unknown ✓✓Fishing (21), land-based (3)
Pacific Ocean Central (Hawaii) Francke et al. (2014) 2013−2014 51 Unknown ✓✓Fishing
Chaloupka et al. (2008) 1982−2003 43 20.0−100.0 ✓✓Fishing
Caribbean Sea Southeastern (Venezuela) Barrios-Garrido et al. (2013) 2013 1 Unknown na na na Fishing
Leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea
Indian Ocean North (Maldives) Stelfox & Hudgins (2015) 2013−2015 1 Unknown na na na Fishing
Pacific Ocean Northeastern (USA) Moore et al. (2009) 2001−2005 1 Unknown na na na Fishing
Atlantic Ocean Northwestern (USA) Hunt et al. (2016) 2007−2013 8 Unknown na na na Fishing
Northwestern (USA) Innis et al. (2010) 2007−2008 7 Unknown na na na Fishing
Global Balazs (1985) 1967−1984 5 Unknown X X Fishing
Hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata
Indian Ocean North (Maldives) Stelfox & Hudgins (2015) 2013−2015 6 Unknown X X Fishing
Northeastern (Darwin, Australia) Chatto (1995) 1994 1 32.5 X X Fishing
Northeastern (Australia) Wilcox et al. (2013) 2005−2009 35 Unknown na na na Fishing
Northeastern White (2006) 2004 2 Unknown X X Fishing
(Northern Territory, Australia)
Global Balazs (1985) 1967−1984 9 Unknown ✓✓Fishing (8), land-based (1)
Olive ridley turtle Lepidochelys olivacea
Indian Ocean North (Maldives) Anderson et al. (2009) 1998−2007 25 10.0−61.0 ✓✓X Fishing (22), land-based (3)
North (Maldives) Stelfox & Hudgins (2015) 2013−2015 163 Unknown ✓✓Fishing
Northeastern Jensen et al. (2013) Unknown 44 Unknown na na na Fishing
(McCluer Island, Australia)
Northeastern (Australia) Wilcox et al. (2013) 2005−2009 53 Unknown na na na Fishing
Northeastern (Darwin, Australia) Chatto (1995) 1994 2 64 X X Fishing
Northwestern (Seychelles) Remie & Mortimer (2007) 2007 1 Unknown X X Unspecified
Atlantic Ocean Southwestern (Brazil) Santos et al. (2012) 1996−2011 18 2.01−80.0 X ✓✓Fishing
Global Balazs (1985) 1967−1984 7 Unknown ✓✓Fishing
Pacific Ocean Central (Hawaii) Francke et al. (2014) 2013−2014 1 Unknown na na na Fishing
Flatback turtle Natator depressus
Indian Ocean Northeastern (Darwin, Australia) Chatto (1995) 1994 1 25.5 X X Land-based
Northeastern (Australia) Wilcox et al. (2013) 2005−2009 3 Unknown na na na Fishing
Indian Ocean Northeastern (Australia) Wilcox et al. (2015) 2005−2012 336 Unknown na na na Fishing
Pacific Ocean Southwestern (Australia) Meager & Limpus (2012) 2011 5 Unknown na na na Fishing
Table 1. Summary of all studies on entanglement of marine turtles in plastic debris. CCL: curved carapace length (cm); na: not available
Endang Species Res 34: 431–448, 2017
range in the number of annual stranding cases in their
respective study sites (annual maxima given in the
survey; mean ± SE = 239.9 ± 71.7, range = 0 to 4100,
n = 97) but in total, through addition of the respon-
dents’ answers, they are responsible for at tending an
estimated 23 000 stranded turtles yr−1. Respondents
also generally had many years of ex perience dealing
with and reporting marine turtle strandings (range = 2
to 42 yr, mean ± SE = 15.6 ± 1.1, n = 98), confirming
them as having relevant ex perience to answer the
survey. The second follow-up questionnaire sent to all
respondents (n = 106) received 63 responses with re-
spondents from 31 countries.
Rates of entanglement
A majority of respondents (84.3%; n = 101) had
encountered cases in which turtles were entangled in
anthropogenic debris. When broken down by spe-
cies, the proportion of stranded turtles that were
entangled did not differ significantly (Kruskal-Wallis:
χ2= 4.59, df = 6, p = 0.59) (Fig. 2a). There was a low
percentage incidence for all species, with the grand
median rate of 5.5%, although there was consider-
able inter- and intraspecific variation, with incidences
in different responses ranging from 0 to 95.5%. In
terms of the proportion of marine turtles alive when
found entangled, there were significant interspecific
differences (Kruskal-Wallis: χ2= 19.62, df = 6, p =
0.003). The proportion found alive (grand median =
9.4%) was significantly higher in green (25.5%) and
loggerhead (15.5%) turtles than in all other species
(5.5%) (Fig. 2b).
Entanglement rates also differed amongst life stages
for each species. Whilst respondents indicated that
all life stages of each species had been affected by
entanglement, the results suggested adults were
most impacted in leatherback and olive ridley turtles,
whereas for the remaining species respondents indi-
cated a higher rate of entanglement in juveniles
(pelagic and neritic; Fig. 3).
When considering this issue over time (over the last
10 yr), a similar proportion of respondents (35.8 % of
106) thought the prevalence of entanglement had
increased or remained the same, while the remainder
thought it had decreased (8.5%) or were unsure
(19.8%). Among those respondents that noted an
increase, some (n = 4) suggested that this may be
caused by an increase in reporting and awareness,
while others (n = 9) indicated the development of
coastal fishing activities might be a factor. When
asked to consider a shorter time period (the last 5 yr),
the majority of respondents believed that the pre -
valence of entanglement they had experienced had
remained stable (51.9%), whilst the others thought it
had increased (29.2%), decreased (3.8%) or were not
sure (15.1%).
Entanglement materials
The majority of entanglements recorded were with
lost/discarded fishing gear (Fig. 4). A clear distinc-
tion was made between ‘active’ and ‘lost/discarded’
% alive
% entangled
Fig. 2. Inter-species comparison of the proportion of: (a)
stranded individuals found entangled and (b) individuals
found alive when discovered entangled. Violin plots show
the kernel density of data at different values. Median (black
dot) with interquartile range boxplot (black/white) and
grand median (black dashed line). Turtle species abbrevia-
tions: CC: loggerhead Caretta caretta; CM: green Chelonia
mydas; DC: leatherback Dermochelys coriacea; EI: hawks-
bill Eretmochelys imbricata; LK: Kemp’s ridley Lepidochelys
kempii; LO: olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea; ND: flatback
turtle Natator depressus
Duncan et al.: Marine turtle entanglement
fishing gear to try and separate incidents due to
bycatch and subsequent stranding from those caused
by ghost fishing. The number of responses on the
occurrence of ghost fishing (GF) through discarded
fishing debris (rope, net and line) was generally
slightly higher than for bycatch (BC) through active
A smaller percentage of respondents specified
cases of turtle entanglement in land-based sources,
from polythene sheeting (n = 71), woven sacks (n =
72) and non-fishing rope/twine (n = 68). But in only a
few incidences were these said to be common oc -
currences (polythene sheeting [n = 3], woven sacks
[n = 4], non-fishing rope/twine [n = 7]). Respondents
were asked to comment on the occurrence of ‘other’
entangling materials (n = 54) and to provide exam-
ples (n = 20) that caused turtle entanglement. This
included debris from land-based sources (plastic -
balloon string, canned drink ‘6-pack’ rings, kite
string, plastic chairs, plastic packaging straps, wood -
en crates and weather balloons) and debris from
other maritime activities (boating mooring line, an -
chor line and discarded seismic cable).
Scale of issue
In order to obtain further insights into the potential
scale of this issue, respondents to the second survey
were asked whether they thought entanglement in
anthropogenic debris is causing population-level ef-
fect in marine turtles. Of the 63 respondents, 84.1%
thought that this was probable, very likely or definite
(see Fig. S1 in the Supplement). There was no signif-
icant difference in scaled responses by ocean basin
(Kruskal-Wallis: χ2= 1.82, df = 4, p = 0.77). In order to
assess the relative importance of different threats ac-
cording to experts, we also sought the experts’ opin-
ions on how they thought entanglement in anthro-
Fig. 3. Inter-specific comparison of the breakdown of entan-
gled sea turtle species by life stage. Black: pelagic juveniles
(PJ); white: neritic juveniles (NJ); light grey: juveniles (JV);
dark grey: adults (AD); see Fig. 2 for species abbreviations.
Flatback turtles were only categorised into juvenile or adult
classes with advice from species experts. Sea turtle skull fig-
ures used with permission of WIDECAST; original artwork
by Tom McFarland
0 20 40 60 80 100
L/DF net
L/DF line
A/F line
L/DF rope
A/F net
A/F rope
Poly sheet
Woven sacks
Non-F rope/twine
n = 54
n = 71
No. of responses
n = 72
n = 68
n = 75
n = 81
n = 78
n = 79
n = 86
n = 81
Fig. 4. Entangling materials. L/DF: lost/discarded fishing;
A/F: active fishing; Non-F: non fishing; Poly sheet: poly -
ethylene sheeting. Black: common (10% or more of cases);
grey: sometimes (less than 10% of cases); white: never. Not
all participants categorised each material; total number of
responses for each material shown on the right of the graph
Endang Species Res 34: 431–448, 2017
pogenic debris compared to other threats to marine
turtles (i.e. ‘plastic ingestion’, ‘oil pollution’, ‘fisheries
bycatch’, ‘direct exploitation’ and ‘climate change’).
Although between 6.35 and 25.4% were unsure,
there was a strong opinion that plastic ingestion and
fisheries bycatch were greater threats, and that oil
pollution, climate change and direct exploi tation
were less severe threats than entanglement (Fig. 5).
Challenges, priority actions and research needs
Respondents to the second survey converged on a
limited number of themes when considering the
challenges, research needs and priority actions with -
in marine turtle entanglement. The challenges to
addressing the issue (115 suggestions) could be
grouped into 5 major categories: law and enforce-
ment (23.5%; n = 27); sources and spatial extent of
entanglement materials (24.3%; n = 28); education
and innovation (24.3%; n = 28); understanding the
full extent of the threat (18.3%; n = 21); and human
response to entangled turtles (9.6%; n = 11) (Table 2).
Seven major research areas were suggested by re -
spondents (91 suggestions): more specific reporting
and monitoring or a common database (23.1%; n =
21); mapping the threat/spatio-temporal hotspots
(31.9%; n = 29); identifying entanglement materials
and sea turtle inter actions (24.2%; n = 22); under-
standing post-release mortality and physical effects
(3.3%; n = 3); socio-economic impacts (4.4%; n = 4);
innovation of new replacement materials (6.6%; n =
6); and demographic risk assessments (6.6%; n = 6)
(Table 3). Priority actions (n = 121 suggestions) that
respondents believe would help re duce turtle entan-
glement were grouped into 5 major areas: educa-
tion/stakeholder engagement (31.4%; n = 38); fish-
eries management and monitoring (26.4%; n = 32);
research (5%; n = 6); law and enforcement (20.7 %;
n = 25); and development of alternative materials and
methods (16.5%; n = 20) (Table 4).
Global distribution
Our review and elicitation of expert opinions de -
monstrate that marine turtle entanglement is an issue
operating at a global scale, occurring in all species,
throughout their geographic range. We sought to
answer key knowledge gaps surrounding the issue of
turtle entanglement in marine debris as previously
highlighted by Vegter et al. (2014) and Nelms et al.
(2016). Difficulties in investigating these knowledge
gaps are in part due to a lack of robust data. This
highlights the importance of using mixed methods to
access expert opinion to gain an insight into this
global threat. The growing use of expert knowledge
in conservation is driven by the need to identify and
characterise issues under limited resource availabil-
ity, and the urgency of conservation decisions (Mar-
tin et al. 2012).
Acknowledging the incomplete coverage of our es-
timates, given the mean estimated number of strand-
ings and mortality rates, in the order of 1000 turtles
die annually as a result of entanglement in the areas
monitored by our respondents. These levels are
likely a profound underestimation of the scale of this
issue as the coverage of these actors is far from com-
prehensive. Second, it is well known that not all dead
turtles strand (Epperly et al. 1996, Sasso & Epperly
2007), especially small and pelagic animals, and
there can also be decay of entangled animals. Addi-
tionally, some of our respondents commented that
detection of stranded animals may be further con-
founded due to take of stranded animals for human
Fig. 5. Responses to comparison of other threats faced by
marine turtles compared to entanglement (n = 63). Black:
greater than entanglement; grey: similar threat; white: less
than entanglement; striped: unsure
Duncan et al.: Marine turtle entanglement 439
Challenge category % of Challenges described Direct quotes from respondents
(n = 115)
Law and enforcement 23.5 Management of both industrial ‘Under-resourced fisheries management of small-scale fisheries’
and small-scale artisanal fisheries
The issue of discarded fishing gear at sea ‘Trawlers should file a report anytime they lose netting’
Ineffectiveness of Marine Protected Areas ‘Shifting climate may render Marine Protected Areas as ineffective’
Source of entanglement 24.3 Estimating the amount and durability ‘Entangling material tends to be durable, so even if management scheme is
materials and extent of entangling material entering the sea put into place, have to deal with historic material already in the ocean’
Retrieving lost fishing gear ‘In my region, lost/discarded fishing lines are a big issue’
Lack of accountability ‘Inability to determine source of entanglement debris (no accountability)’
Education and innovation 24.3 Fisherman education and awareness ‘Engagement/education/enticement to bring artisanal fishers in developing
countries to a want to reduce turtle mortality’
‘Figuring out how to reach out to boaters/fishermen with making them want
to support sea turtle friendly habits’
Developing a discipline to avoid ‘Addressing amateur/recreational fishers is really hard. In my opinion, most
abandonment of fishing gear of the discarded fishing lines are left by this group’
Sourcing alternative materials ‘Creation of degradable nylon’
Understanding the full 18.3 Lack of stranding networks’ ability to ‘It is hard to estimate the total amount of entangled turtles, since these
extent of the threat measure the impact of the extent of animals are highly migratory and tend to be scattered over wide areas.
the threats in multiple areas Additionally turtles that become entangled may quickly die and be
predated. Scavengers, predators, wind and currents may prevent carcasses
from coming ashore’
‘Most entanglement records rely on land-based sampling and stranding
do not represent total deaths at sea’
‘It is hard to distinguish marine debris from active and ghost fishing gears’
Difficulty in determining if entanglement ‘Difficulty in determining if entanglement occurred pre- or post-mortem
occurred pre- or post-mortem (for some entanglement types, such as discarded nets/line)’
Survivorship of turtle found entangled alive ‘Limited post-release monitoring of live entangled turtles’
Response to entangled turtles 9.6 Detangle permits ‘Very few people are trained and permitted to disentangle them
Discovery times need to be quick Discovering entangled turtles quickly’
‘Entangled turtle can be challenging to disentangle especially if they are
not anchored and instead are free swimming’
Ineffectiveness of reporting systems ‘Having a good system in place that stranding will be reported (people that
see an entangled turtle have to be able to notify the correct organization)’
Lack of rehabilitation resources ‘Lack of rehabilitation resources for turtles hurt in incidents of entanglement’
for entanglement incidents
Table 2. Summary of major challenges regarding marine turtle entanglement as listed by respondents
Endang Species Res 34: 431–448, 2017
Research need category % of Research needs described Direct quotes from respondents
(n = 91)
More specific reporting 23.1 Creation of a common database ‘A common database, long lasting surveys and a programme on a national
and monitoring/common base for monitoring of the state of debris in the sea’
database An increase in specificity of reporting ‘Better monitoring/reporting of entanglement cases by species, life stage,
of entanglement cases region’
‘Establish a protocol for sea turtle strandings networks for identify
entanglements and report these’
Collaboration of resource users in the ‘More collaboration with resource users in the marine environment in
marine environment respect to reporting cases of entanglement’
‘Getting information from fishermen when turtles get entangled. Support to
Fisheries Division who can provide accurate information on net damage
from reports by fishermen. Only a small percentage of stranded turtles will
wash up ... carcasses may become destroyed prior to reaching those coasts’
Mapping the threat/spatio- 31.9 Using stakeholder knowledge ‘Surveys to fishermen (industrial, artisanal and sport) to understand where
temporal hotspots and when they discard nets or lines and in water monitoring programs in
coastal areas with high pressure of artisanal and sport fishing’
Identifying and mapping the ‘Understanding where the event occurs, such as targeting if the problem is
entanglement rates due to different more from floating debris versus debris in water column’
gear types and materials
Modelling/mapping patterns of debris ‘Understanding overlap between sea turtle habitats (e.g. nesting and feeding
distribution, patterns of marine turtle grounds) with areas of high debris concentration (e.g. convergence zones)’
migrations and the characterization of
fisheries distributions ‘Spatio-temporal scales. Hotspots’
Entanglement materials and 24.2 Studying sea turtle and debris behaviour ‘Behavioural (foraging or sheltering) traits in different turtle species or
sea turtle interactions and their interactions populations that may them more vulnerable to entanglement’
‘Investigate the behavioural characteristics of the turtles that lead to their
entrapment in fishing gear with a view to improving mitigation actions’
Post-release mortality and 3.3 Understanding true post-release mortality ‘The effects of flipper amputations on survival’
survival/physical effects and morbidity
Socio-economic impact 4.4 Special focus on the fisher community ‘What are the opportunities and barriers to intervention?’
Innovation of new replacement 6.6 Innovation of biodegradable alternatives ‘Alternative materials for fishing and other things/activities’
materials & methods to commonly used plastic materials
Demographic risk assessments 6.6 Development of demographic risk ‘Develop the appropriate population demographic models for marine turtles
assessments for threatened populations to allow for assessment/identification of those mortality factor that are
of turtles not detrimental to maintaining robust non threatened population of turtle’
Table 3. Summary of research needs regarding marine turtle entanglement as listed by respondents
Duncan et al.: Marine turtle entanglement 441
Priority actions category % of Priority actions described Direct quotes from respondents
(n = 121)
Education/stakeholder 31.4 Fisher involvement/education ‘Develop questionnaire for fishermen for their recommendations on how
engagement it would be possible to reduce turtle entanglement’
‘Partnership with local fishermen to locate and remove abandoned or lost
fishing gear (ghost gear). Financial incentives to return discarded gears to shore’
Community/public awareness campaigns ‘Organizing campaigns with scuba divers to clean sea bottom from the man
on marine litter debris and ghost nets/discarded fishing lines’
‘Implement an environmental stewardship certificate system among ocean
users and create a global open access database of entanglements to
facilitate research efforts’
Fisheries management and 26.4 The development of traceable gear ‘Developing/using traceable gear in combination with introducing
monitoring a fining policy’
Stricter regulations ‘Increased collaborations with commercial fisherman and recreational
fisherman to better understand their needs and the needs of the
turtles....and how these can be combined’
Research/knowledge 5 The implementation of the research needs ‘We cannot say before understanding the main reasons, main sources and
stated in Table 3 main habitats or localities in which entanglement occurs’
Law and enforcement on 20.7 Banning at-sea disposal of entangling ‘Enforcement of laws banning at-sea disposal of entangling material’
entanglement material materials
Better waste management and increased ‘Reduction of manmade debris, better waste management, more
recycling efforts biodegradable products’
Development of alternative 16.5 Development of alternative materials/ ‘Development of less environmentally persistent materials to be used in nets,
materials/methods methods fishing line, etc.’
Shifting gear type/increasing the use ‘Different strategies to different fishing gear; from the coastal sport
of biodegradable materials fishermen to high seas industrial fishermen’
‘Introduce biodegradable chord into selected net fisheries with high loss
to ghost nets’
Table 4. Summary of priority actions regarding marine turtle entanglement as listed by respondents
Endang Species Res 34: 431–448, 2017
Species differences
Although there was no interspecific difference in
the incidence of entanglement, most peer-reviewed
publications featured olive ridley turtles, with some
experts reporting high incidences of entanglement
for this species. Stelfox et al. (2016) noted that olive
ridley turtles accounted for the majority of sea turtles
identified as entangled (68%; n = 303), and this could
be for the following reasons. Firstly, this species,
which often exhibits mass nesting in the hundreds of
thousands of individuals, is highly numerous, and at
particularly high densities in some areas, leading to
entanglement hotspots (Jensen et al. 2006, Koch et
al. 2006, Wallace et al. 2010a). Secondly, the olive
ridley forages along major oceanic fronts which are
known to aggregate marine debris (Polovina et al.
2004, McMahon et al. 2007). Finally, their generalist
feeding behaviour potentially attracts them to feed
opportunistically on biofouled marine debris such as
ghost gear (Stelfox et al. 2016).
Life stages
Entanglement was reported to occur in all life
stages (pelagic juveniles, neritic juveniles and adults)
across all species (the exception being flatback tur-
tles which have no pelagic juveniles; Hamann et al.
2011). Perhaps of greatest concern is the signal of
high entanglement incidence in the pelagic juvenile
stage: despite the general inaccessibility of sampling
this life stage, they are still appearing as stranded
entangled. The currents that transport hatchlings to
oceanic convergence zones are also now recognised
as concentrating floating anthropogenic debris, cre-
ating the capacity for an ecological trap for these
young turtles, whether it be through ingestion or
entanglement (Nelms et al. 2016, Ryan et al. 2016).
Many respondents considered that entanglement
could be having a population level effect; a distinct
possibility if this there is a large impact on this cryptic
life stage and on pelagic foraging adults (Mazaris et
al. 2005).
Entangling materials
Respondent data highlighted that the majority of
entanglements were the result of fishery-based
material and other maritime activities. The issue of
ghost fishing featured highly, with numerous res -
ponses reporting entanglement within lost/discarded
gear. This gear is often lost, abandoned or discarded
when it becomes derelict, attracting scavengers and
acting as FADs (Gilman 2011). Subsequently, species
such as marine turtles become entangled within the
gear, perhaps encouraged by this process of ‘self-
baiting’ (Matsuoka et al. 2005).
Change in fishing practice
The issue of ghost fishing appears to have wors-
ened since the 1950s, as the world’s fishing indus-
tries have replaced their gear, which was originally
made of natural fibres such as cotton, jute and
hemp, with synthetic plastic materials such as
nylon, poly ethylene and polypropylene. Manufac-
tured to be resistant to degradation in water means
that once lost, it can remain in the marine environ-
ment for decades (Good et al. 2010). Furthermore,
there has also been a shift in the type of synthetic
nets being selected; for example, fishers in part of
Southeast Asia now increasingly favour superfine
nets. Al though this can help increase catches, the
twine thinness means that they break easily and are
difficult to repair once damaged (Stelfox et al.
2016). The incidences of entanglement caused by
this form of pollution in our expert surveys indicates
that this source of mortality for marine turtles mir-
rors that in marine mammals and sea birds, which
has increased substantially over the last century
(Tasker et al. 2000, Good et al. 2010, McIntosh et al.
Differentiation from bycatch
It is quite plausible that ghost fishing may be work-
ing synergistically alongside bycatch, but because of
its more cryptic nature this means that understand-
ing its role in marine turtle mortality is much more
difficult. Bycatch is better understood. For example,
the analysis of catch rates in the Mediterranean
allowed for the estimation of 132 000 captures and
44 000 incidental deaths per year (Casale 2011). Like-
wise, cumulative analysis of catch rates in US fish-
eries estimated a total of 71 000 annual deaths prior
to the establishment of bycatch mitigation methods.
Since these measures were implemented, mortality
estimates are ~94% lower (4600 deaths yr−1) (Fink -
beiner et al. 2011). This highlights the importance of
informed estimates to monitor the success of mitiga-
tion methods. In addition to bycatch mortality esti-
mates, spatial and temporal patterns of bycatch inci-
Duncan et al.: Marine turtle entanglement
dences can be identified. Using onboard observer
data, Gardner et al. (2008) found seasonal changes in
catch distributions of loggerhead and leatherback
turtles in the North Atlantic, with patterns of spatial
clustering from July to October. Analysed on a global
scale, Wallace et al. (2010b) were able to highlight
region− gear combinations requiring urgent action
such as gillnets, longlines and trawls in the Mediter-
ranean Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean. Generating
such estimates of catch rates and spatial/temporal
patterns for entanglement are not yet possible due to
the lack of quantitative information.
Land-based plastic entanglements
The domination of fisheries-based materials in the
results does not mean that land-based plastics are
not a source of entanglement. The increased input of
plastic debris from terrestrial run-off means that
these interactions are only likely to increase (Jam-
beck et al. 2015). Our literature search and ‘other’
materials stated by respondents contained a variety
of items causing entanglement that could be de -
creased by reduction of use, replacement with more
degradable alternatives and better waste manage-
ment and recycling. The prevalence of these materi-
als in the marine environment will very much de -
pend on future waste governance, especially in those
countries that generate the most plastic waste (Jam-
beck et al. 2015). A future technological solution
which is currently being investigated or adopted in
high plastic-generating countries such as Thailand
and India is the pyrolysis of plastics. This process
produces fuel from waste plastic, a better alternative
to landfill and a partial replacement of depleting
fossil fuels (Wong et al. 2015).
It is important to recognise the biases associated
with using stranding animals for data collection.
Within and between stranding sites there are differ-
ences in turtle foraging ecology, life stages and
proximity to human habitation (Bolten 2003, Rees et
al. 2010), and therefore they are exposed to different
levels and types of potential entangling materials.
Individual turtles therefore may not represent a
homogeneous group in terms of entanglement oc -
currence within that population (Casale et al. 2016).
Additionally, recovered carcasses represent an un -
known fraction of at-sea mortalities, with physical
oceanography (e.g. currents) and biological factors
(e.g. decomposition) affecting the probability and
location of carcass strandings (Hart et al. 2006).
However, examining reports of stranded animals
represents a vital opportunity for research and can
provide insights into the impacts of anthropogenic
threats which would otherwise go undetected
(Chaloupka et al. 2008, Casale et al. 2010). In addi-
tion, stranding information aids with the assessment
of harder-to-access life stages, yielding key infor-
mation on the risk to specific resident populations
and contributing to building a worldwide perspec-
tive for conservation issues (Chaloupka et al. 2008,
Casale et al. 2016). Indeed, this was the aim of our
study: using stranding data from expert respondents
to gain an initial indication of the estimated magni-
tude of this threat.
Surveying experts can be a powerful tool for ob -
taining insights on particular topics not widely
known by others (Martin et al. 2012). Expert knowl-
edge and opinions may be the result of training,
research, skills and personal experience (Burgman et
al. 2011a). In this study, we sought the opinions of
conservation scientists and practitioners with experi-
ence in marine turtle entanglement and strandings.
Due to the purposive sampling nature of our ap -
proach, we aimed to identify people with relevant
experiences instead of focusing on obtaining a ran-
dom selection of representatives; this is a widely
used practice when undertaking social surveys that
focus on particular subgroups or specialists (Newing
2011). Nevertheless, expert knowledge and opinions
are also known to be subject to biases, including
overconfidence, accessibility and motivation (see e.g.
Burgman et al. 2011b and Martin et al. 2012). In the
absence of empirical data to validate our findings,
this remains as simply suggestive but nevertheless
relevant information in terms of identifying a poten-
tially important conservation issue and providing rel-
ative indications of the scale of entanglement as a
threat to sea turtles.
Future actions and recommendations
Ghost fishing
Issue and policy. Presently, a large knowledge
gap exists regarding effects of ghost fishing. While
there has been some progress in documenting the
frequency of loss from passive gear such as gillnets,
little is known about loss from active gears; effective
methodology to estimate the persistence of types of
Endang Species Res 34: 431–448, 2017
gear such as trawl nets has yet to be developed
(Gilman et al. 2013). While it would be optimal to
switch all gear to more biodegradable materials,
synthetic materials will continue to be used within
fisheries for the foreseeable future. This is an issue
that has been highlighted in policy by the Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO), who recommend
the identification, quantification and reduction of
mortality caused by ghost fishing by implementing
this into fisheries management plans, increasing sci-
entific information and developing mitigation strate-
gies; but this appears still to be in its infancy
(Gilman et al. 2013). This is also reflected in man-
dates within the International Maritime Organisa-
tion (IMO) and International Convention for Preven-
tion of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL Annex V)
(Stelfox et al. 2016).
Need for a global database and spatial hotspot
identification. Undoubtedly a common global meta-
database recording the spatial distribution and abun-
dance of possible entangling ghost gear as well as
incidences of marine turtle entanglement incorporat-
ing a unit of effort metric would assist in quantifying
the mortality due to ghost gear that is needed to in -
form policy (Nelms et al. 2016). A recent global re -
view (dominated by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans)
on marine megafauna by Stelfox et al. (2016) re -
ported a total of 5400 individuals of 40 species that
had been associated with ghost gear between 1997
and 2015. They suggested this was a great underesti-
mate due to lack of capacity to record incidence.
Such data could feed into one of the major research
priorities emphasised by respondents; modelling
spatio-temporal hotspots of entanglement. An inno-
vative study by Wilcox et al. (2013) used beach clean
data and models of ocean drift to map the spatial
degree of threat posed by ghost nets for marine tur-
tles in northern Australia and map areas of high risk.
With the input of more specific marine location data
on ghost gear and the advocacy of the use of ever
improving modelling, this could provide a powerful
tool in the future.
Education and stakeholder engagement
Local initiative to reduce debris causing entangle-
ment. On a more local and regional scale, many ini-
tiatives are being brought into place to encourage a
reduction in the amount of ghost gear/plastic debris
entering the ocean and combat discarding at sea by
working closely with community education and
engagement; another highlighted topic by our re -
spondents. There are numerous examples: the sea
turtle conservation program in Bonaire has started a
‘Fishing Line Project’ (www.bonaireturtles. org/ wpp/
what-we-do/fishing-line-project) working with vol-
unteers to train them on how to remove discarded
line and nets from coral reefs, and the Zoological
Society of London’s ‘Net-works’ (
initiative has established a supply chain for discarded
fishing nets from artisanal fishing communities in the
Philippines to a carpet manufacturing company. With
further replication of such community-based projects
and stakeholder engagement, especially with arti-
sanal fisheries awareness, the potential exists to start
targeting hotspots of marine vertebrate entangle-
ment directly.
Stranding networks training. Another set of stake-
holders which will be important to engage are
stranding networks. Responses to entangled turtles
can often be slow, and respondents commented that
many are not trained in the correct protocols to
safely remove entangling materials. If stranding
networks were fully trained in a standardised proto-
col for removal, the techniques could then be
passed on through educational training programmes
to the fishing community, quickening the response
to such incidences. This is already beginning to
happen for bycatch cases; Sicilian fisherman now
actively volunteer to take part in the rescue of tur-
tles in difficulty and are trained in contacting the
competent authorities for the transfer of turtles to
the nearest recovery centres. This level of involve-
ment by workers in the fishery sector was stressed
and encouraged through both effective education
activity and specific targeted study campaigns
(Russo et al. 2014).
Future research avenues into marine turtle
Respondents raised the issue of post-release mor-
tality and the importance of behavioural research
into the interactions between marine turtles and
potential entangling materials present in the marine
environment. The prominence of this has been em -
phasised within other taxa; for example, post-
release mortality can result from long-term chronic
effects of injuries in pinnipeds even after the entan-
glement has been removed (McIntosh et al. 2015).
Furthermore, it has been argued that some colonial
seabirds released from entangling plastic would not
survive without human intervention (Votier et al.
Duncan et al.: Marine turtle entanglement
To validate the success of release protocols after
entanglement incidents (as mentioned above), tech-
niques could be employed from other areas of mar-
ine turtle research. Satellite telemetry has already
been used in a multitude of ways to provide infor-
mation on conservation issues facing marine turtles;
a number of studies have used this technique to
consider post-release mortality after bycatch fish-
eries interactions (reviewed in Jeffers & Godley
2016). Deploying tagged turtles that have been
involved in entanglements could aid in the under-
standing of survival after these events as well as
simultaneously providing information on the loca-
tion of sea turtles, feeding into information on en -
tanglement hotspots to target mitigation actions.
The benefits of utilising such techniques have been
illustrated in other endangered species facing en -
tanglement, such as studying mortality of silky sharks
Carcharhinus falciformis in the Indian Ocean; esti-
mates derived from satellite tracking showed that
mortality due to entanglement was 5 to 10 times
that of known bycatch mortality and provided evi-
dence for a call advising immediate management
intervention (Filmalter et al. 2013).
Other research methods and ideas could be modi-
fied from the study of plastic debris ingestion by sea
turtles. Studies are currently underway to under-
stand the selective mechanisms that lead to ingestion
of plastic pieces (Schuyler et al. 2014, Nelms et al.
2016). For instance, a study by Santos et al. (2016)
used Thayer’s law of countershading to assess differ-
ences in the conspicuousness of plastic debris to infer
the likelihood that visual foragers (sea turtles) would
detect and possibly ingest the plastic fragments. Sim-
ilar studies could be conducted to comprehend the
underlying behavioural and physiological mecha-
nisms that influence turtles to approach potential
entangling materials when encountering them with -
in the marine environment.
Similarly, comprehending how important the level
of biofouling on this synthetic debris is in contribut-
ing to the likelihood of entanglement will be impor-
tant. Total fish catches by monofilament gillnets in
Turkey was lower, as a result of accumulating detri-
tus and biofouling increasing the visibility of the nets
in the water column (Ayaz et al. 2006). Furthermore,
the level of biofouling could indicate the age of ghost
gear entangling marine turtles. Retrieved lost/dis-
carded fishing gears are usually found fouled by
macro-benthic organisms, so if a relationship be -
tween soak time and biofouling level could be
established, these organisms could provide a valid
methodology to age the gear and enable better esti-
mates of ‘catches’ made by the respective net (Sal-
danha et al. 2003).
Finally, it will be important to undertake demo-
graphic studies, calculating rates of entanglement,
especially for specific populations that are known to
be particularly vulnerable to a combination of other
anthropogenic threats. For species such as pinni -
peds, which are less elusive (hauling out on land)
than marine turtles, the literature describes different
methods. For example, a proportion de rived from a
count of entangled individuals from a sub-sample or
an estimate of the total population (Raum-Suryan et al.
2009, McIntosh et al. 2015), or more recently, the use
of mixed-effects models to obtain a prediction of the
total number of seals entangled per year, by examin-
ing changes in entanglement rates over time and the
potential drivers of these detected trends (McIntosh
et al. 2015). However, this can only be achieved if
reporting and recording such incidences in marine
turtles improves in efficacy and standardisation.
Further research may show that the issue is more
one of animal welfare than of substantive conserva-
tion concern to many marine turtle populations. It is
clear, however, that entanglement with anthro-
pogenic plastic materials such as discarded fishing
gear and land-based sources is an under-reported
and under-researched threat to marine turtles. Col-
laboration among stakeholder groups such as strand-
ings networks, fisheries and the scientific community
will aid in providing mitigating actions by targeting
the issue of ghost fishing, engaging in education and
producing urgently needed research to fill knowl-
edge gaps.
Acknowledgements. The authors thank all respondents of
the questionnaires for their invaluable knowledge and
insights regarding this issue. We are grateful to Karen Eck-
ert of WIDECAST for granting access to turtle graphics.
E.M.D. received generous support from Roger de Freitas,
the Sea Life Trust and the University of Exeter. B.J.G. and
A.C.B. received support from NERC and the Darwin Initia-
tive, and B.J.G. and P.K.L. were funded by a University of
Exeter Plymouth Marine Laboratory collaboration award
which supported E.M.D. We acknowledge funding to T.S.G.
from the EU Seventh Framework Programme under Grant
Agreement 308370, and P.K.L. and T.S.G. received funding
from a NERC Discovery Grant (NE/L007010/1). This work
was ap proved by the University of Exeter, CLES ethics com-
mittee (Ref. 2017/1572). The manuscript was greatly
improved by the input of the editor and 2 anonymous
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Editorial responsibility: Rory Wilson,
Swansea, UK
Submitted: February 22, 2017; Accepted: September 22, 2017
Proofs received from author(s): November 28, 2017
... 10 studies recorded ingestion of plastic items (LITTER-BASE). Flesh-footed shearwaters also become entangled in plastics (Taylor, 2004) (Duncan et al., 2017;Nelms et al., 2016;Schuyler et al., 2014a;. ...
... Six out of seven sea turtle species are listed as endangered (Section 5.4.2). Among the thousands of sea turtles 112 that strand every year, 6% were found entangled in marine debris, of which 91% were dead (Duncan et al., 2017). More than 100 experts from 43 countries rated entanglement and plastic ingestion as a greater risk to sea turtles than oil pollution, climate change or direct exploitation (Duncan et al., 2017). ...
... Among the thousands of sea turtles 112 that strand every year, 6% were found entangled in marine debris, of which 91% were dead (Duncan et al., 2017). More than 100 experts from 43 countries rated entanglement and plastic ingestion as a greater risk to sea turtles than oil pollution, climate change or direct exploitation (Duncan et al., 2017). According to the 17 studies captured in LITTERBASE, the median incidence rate of macroplastic ingested by sea turtles was 39% (Figure 16). ...
Technical Report
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A new report commissioned by WWF provides the most comprehensive account to date of the extent to which plastic pollution is affecting the global ocean, the impacts it’s having on marine species and ecosystems, and how these trends are likely to develop in future. The report by researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) reveals a serious and rapidly worsening situation that demands immediate and concerted international action: ● Today almost every species group in the ocean has encountered plastic pollution, with scientists observing negative effects in almost 90% of assessed species. ● Not only has plastic pollution entered the marine food web, it is significantly affecting the productivity of some of the world’s most important marine ecosystems like coral reefs and mangroves. ● Several key global regions – including areas in the Mediterranean, the East China and Yellow Seas and Arctic sea ice – have already exceeded plastic pollution thresholds beyond which significant ecological risks can occur, and several more regions are expected to follow suit in the coming years. ● If all plastic pollution inputs stopped today, marine microplastic levels would still more than double by 2050 – and some scenarios project a 50-fold increase by 2100.
... Some ghost nets can be tracked back to their country of origin, with the majority coming from Asian countries such as Thailand (Gunn et al. 2010). Another risk analysis study indicated that South-East Asia, particularly Thailand, might be one of the highest risk places for sea turtles to ingest plastics or become entangled (Schuyler et al. 2016, Duncan et al. 2017. Therefore, the elimination of ghost nets in the Gulf of Thailand should be the first priority for resolving the turtle stranding crisis. ...
... We discovered that most stranded sea turtles were juveniles, with the majority of these strandings asso-ciated with macroplastics and entanglement being more frequent than ingestion. This finding is consistent with previous studies in many areas, indicating that juvenile green and hawksbill turtles are more susceptible to entanglement than subsequent life stages (Duncan et al. 2017). Entangled animals, particularly smaller animals, are at risk of drowning if the fishing gear is very large or heavy. ...
Full-text available
The impact of macroplastic debris (> 5 mm in size) on marine life is a global concern but is rarely investigated in Thailand. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between stranded sea turtles and macroplastics found in the Central Gulf of Thailand. The records of stranded turtles (n = 388) from 2017-2020 were analysed retrospectively to determine their interaction with macroplastics. Thereafter, macroplastics collected from the gastrointestinal (GI) tracts of 30 dead stranded turtles and 13 beaches (along a 100-metre transect mid-way between high and low tide, between 2019 and 2020) were investigated. Types and composition of macroplastics were identified by a stereomicroscope, and a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer. Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) were the majority of stranded turtles (74%, n = 251), and macroplastics (entanglement or ingestion) were the leading cause (n = 152). Most stranded turtles were juvenile (65%), and their stranding was significantly correlated with macroplastic (P < 0.001). Juveniles were more prone than adults to become entangled (p = 0.007), while adults had the higher ingestion rate than juvenile (p = 0.009). The plastic fibres were commonly found in the GI tracts (62%, n = 152/244) and the beaches (64%, n = 74/115). Most fibres from the GI tracts (83%, n = 126/152) and the beaches (93%, n = 68/74) were fishing nets comprised of polyethylene or polypropylene. We concluded that fishing nets might be one of the significant causes of sea turtle stranding in the Central Gulf of Thailand, and this issue requires immediate resolution.
... Neben direkten Auswirkungen wie z. B. das Verfangen von Meeressäugern, Schildkröten und Seevögeln in Plastiknetzen oder -schlingen (Croxall et al., 1990;Arnould & Croxall, 1995;Gregory, 2009;Phillips et al., 2010;Votier et al., 2011;Duncan et al., 2017;Franco-Trecu et al., 2017) sowie das Verschlucken von Plastikpartikeln (Moser & Lee, 1992;Pierce et al., 2004;Gregory, 2009;Brandão et al., 2011;Kühn & van Franeker, 2012;Schuyler et al., 2012;Codina-García et al., 2013;Cole et al., 2013;de Stephanis et al., 2013;Bond et al., 2014;Cousin et al., 2015;Lusher et al., 2015;Gilbert et al., 2016;Denuncio et al., 2017;van Franeker et al., 2018) sind auch indirekte negative Auswirkungen durch enthaltende bzw. anhaftende Schadstoffe zu erwarten (z. ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
Antarctica and the surrounding Southern Ocean are under increasing pressure from cumulative impacts of climate change, pollution, fisheries, tourism and a variety of other human activities. These changes pose a high risk both to local polar ecosystems and to the regulation of the global climate, as well as through global sea-level rise. Thus, long-term monitoring programmes serve to assess the state of ecosystems as well as to make projections for future developments. The Fildes Region in the southwest King George Islands (South Shetland Islands, Maritime Antarctica), consisting of the Fildes Peninsula, Ardley Island and several offshore islands, is one of the largest ice-free areas in the Maritime Antarctic. As a continuation of a long-term monitoring programme started in the 1980s, local breeding bird and seal populations were recorded during the summer months (December, January, February) of the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons and supplemented by individual count data for the 2020/21 season. This study presents the results obtained, including the population development of the local breeding birds. Here, some species showed stable populations in a long-term comparison (brown skuas, southern polar skuas) or a significant increase (gentoo penguin, southern giant petrel). Other species, however, recorded significant declines in breeding pair numbers (Adélie penguin, chinstrap cenguin, Antarctic tern, kelp gull) up to an almost complete disappearance from the breeding area (cape petrel). In addition, the number of seals at their haul-out sites was recorded and the distribution of all seal reproduction sites in the Fildes Region was presented. Furthermore, data on the breeding bird population in selected areas of Maxwell Bay were added. Additionally, the rapid expansion of the Antarctic hairgrass was documented with the help of a completed repeat mapping. The documentation of glacier retreat areas of selected areas of Maxwell Bay was updated using satellite imagery and considered in relation to regional climatic development. Furthermore, the distribution and amount of marine debris washed up in the Fildes Region and the impact of anthropogenic material on seabirds will are addressed. In addition, the current knowledge of all introduced non-native species in the study area and the need for further research are presented.
... other ecological effects such as entanglement (Duncan et al., 2017;Nelms et al., 2019) and adverse impacts on the health and welfare of humans may also result (Beaumont et al., 2019). ...
Full-text available
This research is the first to assess marine litter and plastic pollution in India's first marine protected area (MPA), the Gulf of Kachchh Marine Protected Area (GOKMPA). We compare it to two non‐protected areas, that is, Okha Beach and Beyt Dwarka, known for their high industrial and tourist activity, respectively. Standing‐stock surveys were used to collect primary litter data, while questionnaire surveys were used to learn about people's perception and attitude towards the plastic pollution problem in the study area. We found that plastic was the most common component of the litter at all the sites and that it was primarily of terrestrial origin. Compared to non‐protected sites, GOKMPA had the lowest litter density but the highest proportion of plastic litter. Single‐use plastic bottles were the most counted items at all the sites, regardless of the conservation status of the sites. The majority of people (locals, visitors, and fishers) around these sites expressed concern about waste but were hesitant to take responsibility and discourage or prevent littering. We noted that designating coastal territories as protected areas helps in reducing plastic pollution while also conserving habitat and biodiversity. However, this could change rapidly due to either mishandling of litter within MPAs or neighboring non‐PAs, and also because plastics pose an actual toxicity risk when present even at minimal concentrations in the environment. We recommend combining preventive, mitigating, and curative measures in areas where risk hotspots for plastic litter are identified, and such sites must be constantly monitored. Long‐term solutions could include transitioning from a linear to a circular economy, which would involve goals for reducing plastic waste and instituting more sustainable production and consumption patterns.
... A large number of investigations focused on the interactions of large plastic litter and smaller fragments with several marine species, through processes such as ingestion and entanglement. 19,20,21 Scientific studies proceeded to investigate the effects of small plastic fragments (produced under the influence of light UV, physical abrasion, etc) that interact with a greater number of species, across marine trophic levels. ...
Full-text available
Marine pollution due to plastic waste is a globally recognized threat that needs effective actions of control and mitigation. Continental plastic litter is flushed into the oceans by storms and river systems or is directly discharged into coastal waters. At a global scale, 60% of plastic waste floating in the oceans is discharged from coastal areas in all continents. Plastic waste is degraded sowly into fragments of smaller size and microplastic (MPs) pollution now appears as one of the world"s environmental main concerns. Scientists change their analytical and detection techniques and numerous monitoring studies were promulgated in the last decade to determine the levels of microplastic pollution at sea and in oceans. The small size of microplastics and nanoplastics makes them potentially bioavailable, via ingestion, to a wide range of marine organisms as they overlap with the size range of their prey. Ingestion of microplastics and nanoplastics have been reported in many in the organs and tissues of most marine species over a broad range of taxa. Biomonitoring of plastic pollution (micro-and nano-size) in marine species should be considered as an additional tool to assess the state of the marine environment. Using marine organisms for biomonitoring of plastic pollution can provide crucial information for the abundance of plastic debris, distribution, type of plastic, and toxic characteristics for adverse effects on specific tissues of marine species. Numerous analytical toxicological studies in bivalves (including oysters, mussels, and clams) have been proved to be suitable bioindicators to identify contamination levels, abundance and types and characteristics of microplastics and nanoplastics. Nanoplastics (sizes in the range from 1 to 100 nm) with similar mechanisms can affect the metabolism, fertility, and mortality of marine organisms. However, there is no significant difference between nanoplastics and microplastics with regard to the adverse health and oxidative effects. Recent studies indicated that nano-and micro-sized plastics and plastic waste in general caused various adverse effects on the growth, development, behaviour, reproduction, and oxidative stress and DNA damage leading to increased mortality of aquatic animals. This review collected a series of scientific papers, reviews and scientific reports concerning the use of marine species for biomonitoring and as potential biondicators of marine pollution by plastic waste.
... Poaching of eggs and females (Pheasey et al., 2021) and domestic dog predation already pose a significant threat to marine turtles in Playa Norte. Given the additional threats of marine debris to these already vulnerable species (Duncan et al., 2017;Wilcox et al., 2018), our findings suggest debris removal efforts should be prioritized as a conservation effort, especially during the dry season. ...
Marine debris pollution poses a threat for wildlife and can negatively impact the economy of communities whose livelihoods depend on tourism. Playa Norte, in northeastern Costa Rica, is an important nesting ground for four marine turtle species identified as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN Red List. It is highly polluted but has low human occupancy. We conducted accumulation rate surveys following a standardized marine debris protocol from March 2016 to January 2018. Macro-debris was categorized by size and material type. Of the 191,030 debris items retrieved during the two-year study period, 96.2% of them were plastic. Debris accumulation was higher during the dry season (January – September). This study contributes towards understanding the drivers of marine debris pollution in critical wildlife nesting habitats; and informs managers and the local community on possible strategies to prevent and reduce marine pollution, thereby aiding in tourism derived economies.
... Entanglement and smothering of flora and fauna are two of the physical effects of plastic debris in the coastal/marine environment. Worldwide, entanglement of marine fauna in plastic debris has been reported for numerous organisms, including sea turtles, sharks, rays and seabirds (Gregory, 2009;Gall and Thompson, 2015;Duncan et al., 2017;Ryan, 2018;Parton et al., 2019). Within the CLME, reports from Barbuda, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands indicated that Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta), Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) were found entangled in plastic debris (Maylan, 1983;Balazs, 1985;Witzell and Teas, 1994;Barrios-Garrido et al., 2019) (Fig. 3). ...
The accumulation of plastic litter in natural environments has become a serious global issue. Since 1972, mega to micro/nanosized drifting plastics have been determined to be highly a significant pollutant in all oceans worldwide. To clarifying numerous problems such as entanglement or improper ingestion due to drifting and debris plastic, the amounts of currently drifting plastics should be determined. For this purpose, chemicals derived from polystyrene (PS) degradation were analyzed for 4000 sand and water samples taken from around the world including open sea sites (surface to 5000 m depth) during the period from 2000 to 2018. All styrene oligomers (SOs) of styrene (styrene monomer, SM), 2,4-diphenyl-1-butene (styrene dimer, SD2), and 2,4,6-triphenyl-1-hexene (styrene trimer, ST) were found to contain products from PS degradation. On the basis of survey SO values, 1.4 × 109 metric tons (MT) of SO were found to have been released into world oceans between 1950 and 2018. This SO subsequently underwent conversion to 2.7 × 106 MT of PS. Twenty percent underwent degradation, while 1.2 × 107 MT of PS apparently continued to drift about in ocean water. Drifting PS has been clearly shown not only to be crushed into micro/nanoplastic particles but also to degrade into basic structural units of SOs constituting PS.
Fish stocks are being severely depleted, marine habitats are threatened and marine pollution is on the rise due to discarded fishing gear. This equipment is generally from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, leading to incidental fishing and sometimes ghost fishing. In this study, data obtained from reports produced by the Environmental Military Police in Santa Catarina, Brazil, on gill nets fixed in the coastal area and at the baseline limit of this state, for the period of 2019 to 2020, were analyzed. The results show a large number of seized and collected illegal fishing gear, as well as mammals, fish and birds found entangled in the nets.
Plastic waste has become ubiquitous pollutants in seas and oceans and can affect a wide range of species. For some marine species, plastic debris could pose a considerable threat through entanglement, ingestion, and habitat degradation and loss. Sea turtles are one of the most sensitive species, as their migratory behaviour and multifaceted life cycles make these reptiles especially vulnerable to the negative effects of plastic debris. The present study aimed to assess the amount and composition of plastic debris ingested by loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta, Linnaeus, 1758) in the Balearic Islands Sea, thusly providing new information to complete the knowledge for this topic. In this work, 45 stranded dead C. caretta specimens were necropsied, and their digestive tract content analysed for the presence of plastic debris. Plastic objects were observed in 27 individuals (60.0%), with an average of 12.7 ± 4.7 plastic items per turtle. Litter in the faecal pellet was also monitored in 67 living individuals, observing plastic elements in 46 (68.7%) of the specimens, reporting an average of 9.7 ± 3.3 plastic elements per individual. Overall, 785 plastic items were found, measured, weighed and categorized according to size, colour, shape, and type of polymer. The main elements ingested were plastic sheets that were found in 65.3% of the turtles analysed, being white (42.7%) and transparent (29.2%) the most predominant colours. Most elements were macroplastics (59.3%), while microplastics were not found. Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometry (FT-IR) analysis showed that high-density polyethylene and polypropylene were the main polymer plastics, representing 42.3% and 33.8% of the total, respectively. In conclusion, the high occurrence of plastic debris determined in the present study evidenced for the first time plastic ingestion in loggerhead turtles in the Balearic Islands, and highlights C. caretta as a bioindicator organism for marine pollution.
Full-text available
As human population growth continues, so too does our waste, often with unintended consequences for wildlife. The estimated 640,000 tons of fishing gear lost, abandoned, or discarded annually exerts a large but uncertain impact on marine species. These "ghostnets" drift in the ocean and can fish unattended for decades (ghost fishing), killing huge numbers of commercially valuable or threatened species. We developed an integrated analysis combining physical models of oceanic drift with ecological data on marine turtle species distribution and vulnerability to make quantitative predictions of threat. Using data from beach cleanups and fisheries in northern Australia, we assessed this biodiversity threat in an area where high densities of ghostnets encounter globally threatened turtles. Entanglement risk is well-predicted by our model, as verified by independent strandings data. We identified a number of previously unknown high-risk areas. We are also able to recommend efficient locations for surveillance and interception of abandoned fishing gear. Our work points the way forward for understanding the global threat from marine debris and making predictions that can guide regulation, enforcement, and conservation action.
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Annual and seasonal encounter rates, life stages and the main threats to loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Aeolian Archipelago (southern Italy) were studied. Dedicated boat surveys resulted in 258 surface observations and 138 captures of healthy (n = 309), ailing (n = 66) and dead (n = 21) turtles from 2009 to 2013. Loggerheads were encountered at the sea water surface while resting (87%) or feeding on pelagic prey (13%). The loggerhead encounter rate (observations per km surveyed) was higher during the autumn, suggesting the presence of potential foraging/overwintering habitats in the area. The mean (± SD) curved carapace length (CCL) was 48.8 ± 10.7 cm, with 65% of the individuals ranging from 40–70 cm in size. Smaller turtles were encountered more frequently during the spring months, probably as a result of the abundant pelagic prey within the coastal area. During the colder season, larger turtles were more common in the afternoon than in the morning, suggesting that the time needed for rewarming might increase with turtle size. Ingestion of anthropogenic debris was reported in 48.5% of the rescued turtles. Individual mortality was mainly related to longline fishing (70.6%), with debris entanglements/ingestion frequently associated with these records. Longline bycatch and boat collisions were higher in summer, whereas debris ingestion was highest in spring. Different threats might affect particular life stages because the longline bycatch was more frequent for larger turtles, whereas boat collisions were more frequent with smaller individuals. Migratory patterns, habitat characteristics and seasonal changes in sea temperature and currents might influence the seasonal occurrence of loggerhead turtles in this area. These results increase the current ecological knowledge of the factors driving loggerhead turtle life and are important for implementing management plans for its conservation in the Mediterranean Sea.
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In 2010, an international group of 35 sea turtle researchers refined an initial list of more than 200 research questions into 20 metaquestions that were considered key for management and conservation of sea turtles. These were classified under 5 categories: reproductive biology , biogeography, population ecology, threats and conservation strategies. To obtain a picture of how research is being focused towards these key questions, we undertook a systematic review of the peer-reviewed literature (2014 and 2015) attributing papers to the original 20 questions. In total, we reviewed 605 articles in full and from these 355 (59%) were judged to substantively address the 20 key questions, with others focusing on basic science and monitoring. Progress to answering the 20 questions was not uniform, and there were biases regarding focal turtle species, geographic scope and publication outlet. Whilst it offers some meaningful indications as to effort, quantifying peer-reviewed literature output is ob viously not the only, and possibly not the best, metric for understanding progress towards informing key conservation and management goals. Along with the literature review, an international group based on the original project consortium was assigned to critically summarise recent progress towards answering each of the 20 questions. We found that significant research is being expended towards global priorities for management and conservation of sea turtles. Although highly variable, there has been significant progress in all the key questions identified in 2010. Undertaking this critical review has highlighted that it may be timely to undertake one or more new prioritizing exercises. For this to have maximal benefit we make a range of recommendations for its execution. These include a far greater engagement with social sciences, widening the pool of contributors and focussing the questions, perhaps disaggregating ecology and conservation.
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Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are exposed to many anthropogenic stressors, yet almost no data on stress physiology exist for this species. As a first step toward understanding the physiological responses of leatherback turtles to stress, and with the particular goal of assessment of the effect of capture, we quantified corticosterone (an adrenal stress hormone) and thyroxine (a regulator of metabolic rate, often inhibited by chronic stress) in 17 healthy leatherback turtles captured at sea for scientific study, with comparisons to 15 ‘distressed’ leatherbacks that were found entangled in fishing gear (n = 8), confined in a weir net (n = 1) or stranded on shore (n = 6). Distressed leatherbacks had significantly elevated corticosterone (mean ± SEM 10.05 ± 1.72 ng/ml, median 8.38 ng/ml) and free thyroxine (mean 0.86 ± 0.37 pg/ml, median 0.08 pg/ml) compared with healthy leatherbacks sampled immediately before release (after ∼40 min of handling; corticosterone, mean 4.97 ± 0.62 ng/ml, median 5.21 ng/ml; and free thyroxine, mean 0.05 ± 0.05 pg/ml, median 0.00 pg/ml). The elevated thyroxine in distressed turtles compared with healthy turtles might indicate an energetic burden of entanglement and stranding. Six of the healthy leatherbacks were sampled twice, at ∼25 and ∼50 min after the time of first disturbance. In all six individuals, corticosterone was higher in the later sample (earlier sample, mean 2.74 ± 0.88 ng/ml, median 2.61 ng/ml; later sample, mean 5.43 ± 1.29 ng/ml, median 5.38 ng/ml), indicating that capture and handling elicit an adrenal stress response in this species. However, the corticosterone elevation after capture appeared relatively mild compared with the corticosterone concentrations of the entangled and stranded turtles. The findings suggest that capture and handling using the protocols described (e.g. capture duration <1 h) might represent only a mild stressor, whereas entanglement and stranding might represent moderate to severe stressors.
As species of conservation concern, sea turtles have historically been difficult to study because of their elusive nature and extensive ranges, but improvements in telemetry have facilitated insights into life histories and behaviours which can potentially inform conservation policies. To date, there have been few assessments of the impact of satellite tracking data on species conservation, and it is difficult to clearly gauge whether the dividends justify the costs. Through an extensive review of the literature (369 papers, 1982–2014) and a questionnaire-based survey of 171 sea turtle tracking researchers, we evaluate the conservation dividends gained thus far from tracking and highlight conservation successes. We discuss who is tracking and where, where biases in effort exist, and evaluate the impact of tracking data on conservation. Conservation issues are increasingly being considered. Where research recommends policy change, the quality of advice varies and the level of uptake is still uncertain, with few clearly described examples of tracking-data actually influencing policy. The means to increase the conservation impact are discussed, including: disseminating findings more widely; communicating and collaborating with colleagues and stakeholders for more effective data sharing; community liaison, and endeavouring to close the gaps between researchers and conservation practitioners.