The East Pacific Leatherback Action Plan provides a 10-year investment strategy to stabilize the population trend in the next 10 years (around 150-200 females per year by 2023), and demonstrate an increasing population trend 20-30 years from now (significant increase between 2033-2043, or significantly above 200 females per year).
To develop this Action Plan, a workshop (with support from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation) was conducted with more than a dozen key leatherback experts from the region, as well as other participants with expertise in sea turtle conservation. Following the workshop, the plan was drafted over several months, incorporating comments and recommendations of numerous experts. The Action Plan establishes ambitious but realistic population goals, defines key activities to address major threats to East Pacific leatherbacks, and outlines specific actions, metrics, timelines and financial needs to ensure success. Thus, the Action Plan provides a roadmap for recovery of the East Pacific leatherback population.
The expert working group first decided that the East Pacific leatherback Action Plan should be developed with existing frameworks for Pacific sea turtle conservation in mind. Specifically, the major goals of the East Pacific leatherback Action Plan mirror those of the Bellagio Blueprint for Pacific sea turtle conservation (Bellagio Blueprint 2003). The working group also decided that the population goal should be to prevent further decline—that is, stabilize the population trend at an average of 150-200 females per year (see figure)—in the next 10 years to lay the groundwork for a significant, measureable population increase 20-30 years from now, i.e. above 200 nesting females per year. It is worth noting that it is unknown whether this population target is sufficient to ensure population viability, but stabilization in any case would be an improvement over recent trends.
The figure shows 1%, 5%, and 10% annual population increases over the next 30 years, which is the monitoring duration that SWOT’s Minimum Data Standards for Nesting Beach Monitoring states will enable detection of a 5% trend in a leatherback population. An annual population increase of 1% will not reach the target until 2052, whereas annual increase rates of 5% and 10% will surpass the threshold by 2029 and 2026, respectively. Thus, the target population growth rate should be above 1%. These population trends should be measureable at the major nesting beaches in Mexico and Costa Rica, as well as secondary beaches in Nicaragua and potentially elsewhere in the region.
The expert working group established that the most serious threat to EP leatherbacks remains incidental capture in fishing gear—i.e., bycatch—particularly in South American waters where leatherbacks feed, but including other areas such as those adjacent to nesting beaches where leatherbacks aggregate annually. However, the group also recognized that despite significant achievements in reducing threats from egg and turtle consumption by humans and habitat degradation on nesting beaches, efforts to protect nesting beaches and increase hatchling production must be redoubled as well. Furthermore, the group acknowledged that regional integration and coordination of conservation efforts are necessary to promote exchange of information and techniques necessary to ensure the future recovery of EP leatherbacks.
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