COnsolidating Sea Turtle
conservation in the Azores
COSTA project is funded by the Marine Turtle Conservation Fund of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research, and is carried out by the Institute of Marine Research (IMAR) and the Azores Fisheries Observer Program (POPA), in colaboration with the Sea Observatory of the Azores (OMA), the Regional Directorate of Sea Affairs (DRAM) and the Regional Directorate for Fisheries (DRP) of the Azorean Government, and the Polytechnic Institute of Leiria (IPL). Furthermore, we would like to emphasize the valuable collaboration of ship owners, captains and crews of the surface longline fleet, to whom we are very grateful.
Five species of sea turtles are found in the Azores, all of which are considered threatened or endangered:
Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii)
Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)
Sea turtles in the Azores
Loggerhead sea turtle
Loggerhead sea turtles are by far the most frequently sighted sea turtle in the Azores, and consist exclusively of juveniles. Through the collaboration between the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries (DOP) of the University of the Azores and the University of Florida, these sea turtles were identified as the so-called "Lost Year". This is a phase in life in which loggerheads of small and intermediate size classes (carapace with curved length between 10 and 65 cm) are not found on the coasts of Florida where they are born, but appear "lost" in the North Atlantic. During this phase, starting immediately after hatching up to 15 years of age, the juvenile turtles exhibit a strictly oceanic behavior. Additional studies have shown that the Azores, with its wealth of habitats and ocean phenomena, represents a key area for this life phase.
The "Lost Year" is a critical phase in the life of these animals, in which they suffer a high mortality, both natural and anthropogenic. In particular, the by-catch of loggerhead sea turtles by the surface longline fishery targeting species such as swordfish and blue shark poses a risk to the conservation of this species. Other threats arise from pollution and phenomena related to climate change.
Collect data on the incidental catches of sea turtles in the Azores through fisheries observers;
Collect biological and demographic data;
Revitalize, restructure and consolidate the longstanding tagging and sampling programs ran by the IMAR/DOP;
Promote best practices and reduce post-hooking mortality by providing information on safe handling and dehooking protocols to fishermen;
Involve and stimulate local communities and tourists visiting the region to participate in conservation actions;