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New IUCN Red List Assessment of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle Caretta caretta in the Mediterranean: long term protection pays off

New IUCN Red List Assessment of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle Caretta caretta in the Mediterranean: long term protection pays offThe Loggerhead Sea Turtle Caretta caretta recently changed category in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature or World Conservation Union) global Red List of threatened species. More specifically, from the category “EN – endangered” which had been assigned since 1996, it became “VU-Vulnerable”, after a recent assessment by the Marine Turtle Specialist Group of IUCN based on updated scientific data and the new IUCN Red List criteria. Further, regional loggerhead populations worldwide were also assessed, and among others, the Mediterranean population was listed as “LC-Least Concern”.

To avoid any misinterpretations that may rise from this shift, the new listing has to be further explained. According to the new IUCN criteria the listing of species is now based on their “imminent extinction risk”. So, the species assigned to the “LC-Least Concern” category are not necessarily safer nor does it mean that their protection must stop but that “they are not in danger of extinction in the near future on the condition that their current status remains the same”. Specifically, the IUCN definition states: “The category Least Concern is applied to taxa that do not qualify (and are not close to qualifying) as threatened or Near Threatened. It is important to emphasize that "least concern" simply means that, in terms of extinction risk, these species are of lesser concern than species in other threat categories. It does not imply that these species are of no conservation concern.”

It must be noted that the IUCN listing based on the new criteria has comparative value among the species. This means that a long lived species such as the loggerhead turtle, with many nesting beaches in the Mediterranean, some of which presenting significant increases in nest numbers due to long term protection measures, as it happens in Kyparissia Bay, cannot be considered endangered as opposed to other species with restricted geographic distribution, very small populations or populations in sharp decline. We must also take into account that the new IUCN listing does not describe the threats that a species has to deal with, nor the full status of its population, nor the need of protection measures. It rather focuses on the species prospects of survival in the near future examining mainly its geographical range and population trends.

Thus, the new listing of Caretta caretta in the Mediterranean actually reflects the success of long term conservation measures which must continue on by international organizations, international treaties, the European Union, governments, local communities and environmental organizations. The IUCN’s Marine Turtle Specialist Group in their statement (see attached file) specifies that this listing is a result of the relatively good condition of the Loggerhead Turtle in the Mediterranean thanks to all the important conservation actions that take place all these years. They further mention that the Mediterranean population must be considered as “conservation dependent” and “any decrease of the current conservation effort would very likely be detrimental”. Finally, they clarify that the loggerhead populations in the Mediterranean should continue to be monitored and further studied as updated and reliable data would be needed for the next assessment. The full statement of the IUCN’s Marine Turtle Specialist Group follows (for the original statement click here).

A new IUCN Red List Assessment of the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is now available online.

The assessment was completed by the Marine Turtle Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, a global network of sea turtle experts. This is the second sea turtle species (after the leatherback turtle, Dermochelys coriacea) that has been assessed at both the global and subpopulation levels using IUCN Red List Criteria. Red List assessments at the subpopulation level are much more meaningful for conservation planning than those done solely at the global scale, especially for wide-ranging species like sea turtles.

Globally, the loggerhead turtle is now listed as Vulnerable. The 10 loggerhead subpopulations have been assigned to categories ranging from “Critically Endangered” to “Least Concern,” representing in most cases a change from the “Endangered” category to which the species as a whole was assigned in the previous assessment from 1996. Given the increasing use of the IUCN Red List to inform conservation priorities in a variety of contexts, we want to clarify some aspects of the Red List in order to avoid misinterpretations about the status of those loggerhead subpopulations that are now listed as “Near Threatened” or “Least Concern.”

The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria represent one approach for assessing and comparing the conservation status of very different species, with a specific aim to identify species and subpopulations facing imminent or high risk of extinction globally based on past, current, and expected future conditions and anthropogenic factors.

Loggerhead subpopulations that have been newly listed in the categories “Near Threatened” or “Least Concern” indicate that those subpopulations are not at imminent/high risk of extinction. However, this evaluation is based on their present situation, which takes into account the results of past conservation efforts, many of which have been in place for decades. In this respect, the current status of these subpopulations represents a measure of the success of past conservation efforts. For this reason, these subpopulations need to be considered to be conservation-dependent. Any decrease of the current conservation effort would very likely be detrimental. Indeed, it is only because of such prolonged conservation efforts that some loggerhead subpopulations are now being categorized as “Near Threatened” and “Least Concern” rather than higher categories of threat like “Vulnerable,” “Endangered,” and “Critically Endangered.” Moreover, within a subpopulation categorized as “Least Concern” or “Near Threatened” there may still be sea turtle stocks that are facing a high risk of extinction at a national or local level.

Red List assessments are updated regularly to reflect the most current and best available data, and as such the Red List status of loggerheads may change with time. All the loggerhead subpopulations must be monitored and studied further in order to assure that conservation strategies and interventions are adjusted to respond to possible future changes. Red List assessments are policy relevant rather than policy prescriptive, and to derive adequate policies at regional or national levels may require many different types of assessments.

Based on the present state of knowledge, all loggerhead subpopulations are in need of intensive conservation measures to improve or to maintain their current conservation status.

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