A new review suggests that the illegal exploitation of sea turtles has significantly declined in the past two decades.

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Drawing on existing scientific data, as well as media reports and interviews with turtle specialists around the world, the research, published in Global Change Biology, estimates that over 1.1 million marine turtles – mostly greens and hawksbills – were hunted illegally between 1990 and 2020 for their meat, eggs, shells, skin and other bodyparts.

However, the numbers taken per year have fallen from 61,000 in the 2000s to 44,000 in the 2010s, a decrease of 28 per cent.

“We were also surprised to find that most illegal exploitation occurred in large, stable and genetically diverse sea turtle populations, which suggests that, with a few exceptions, current levels of illegal exploitation are likely not having a major detrimental impact on most major sea turtle populations throughout
the world’s oceans,” says Jesse Senko, who led the work at Arizona State University.

He stresses that other factors, such as habitat loss and entanglement in fishing gear, continue to threaten the reptiles.

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Main image: hawksbill turtles are critically endangered and targeted by poachers for their beautiful shells. © James R D Scott/Getty

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