Chagos Conservation Trust

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Hawksbill turtle (c) Anne Sheppard

The remote islands make perfect undisturbed nursery sites for nests of green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles. The populations of both species in Chagos are of global significance given the “Critically Endangered” status of hawksbills and the “Endangered” status of green turtles on the IUCN Red List. Chagos turtles were heavily exploited during the previous two centuries, but they and their habitats are now well protected by the administration of the Chagos, and thanks to the recent declaration of the no-take Chagos Marine Reserve, they should continue to recover well.

Currently, some 300-700 hawksbills and 400-800 green turtles are estimated to nest annually, distributed amongst the 55 islands of the Chagos group. The relative proportion and numbers of each species varies from atoll to atoll. Diego Garcia, which accounts for 57% of the land area of Chagos and 63% of the total coastline, not surprisingly hosts the greatest amount of turtle nesting in the archipelago. Approximately 50% of the land on Diego Garcia is managed as a strict nature reserve where adult female turtles can lay their eggs and immature turtles can forage unmolested by people. A unique feeding site for sea turtles is Turtle Cove, located at the south end of the island.

Sea turtles are some of the oldest inhabitants of this planet and are found in all the world’s oceans except for the polar regions. Hawsbills are well protected around the globe and are listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that trade of the species is banned. However, despite this there is still a black market for its particularly beautiful shell and it is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. This demand, along with the effects of bycatch, habitat degradation and the problem of ingesting plastic bags mistaken for its favoured food of jellyfish, mean the worldwide population has declined by over 80% in the last century.