Global patterns of illegal marine turtle exploitation

Jesse F. Senko, Kayla M. Burgher, Maria del Mar Mancha-Cisneros, Brendan J. Godley, Irene Kinan-Kelly, Trevor Fox, Frances Humber, Volker Koch, Bryan P. Wallace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Human exploitation of wildlife for food, medicine, curios, aphrodisiacs, and spiritual artifacts represents a mounting 21st-century conservation challenge. Here, we provide the first global assessment of illegal marine turtle exploitation across multiple spatial scales (i.e., Regional Management Units [RMUs] and countries) by collating data from peer-reviewed studies, grey literature, archived media reports, and online questionnaires of in-country experts spanning the past three decades. Based on available information, we estimate that over 1.1 million marine turtles were exploited between 1990 and 2020 against existing laws prohibiting their use in 65 countries or territories and in 44 of the world's 58 marine turtle RMUs, with over 44,000 turtles exploited annually over the past decade. Exploitation across the 30-year period primarily consisted of green (56%) and hawksbill (39%) turtles when identified by species, with hawksbills (67%) and greens (81%) comprising the majority of turtles exploited in the 1990s and 2000s, respectively, and both species accounting for similar levels of exploitation in the 2010s. Although there were no clear overarching trends in the magnitude or spatial patterns of exploitation across the three decades, there was a 28% decrease in reported exploitation from the 2000s to the 2010s. The 10 RMUs with the highest exploitation in the 2010s included seven green and three hawksbill turtle RMUs, with most reported exploitation occurring in RMUs that typically exhibit a low risk of population decline or loss of genetic diversity. Over the past decade, the number of RMUs with “moderate” or “high” exploitation impact scores decreased. Our assessment suggests that illegal exploitation appears to have declined over the past decade and, with some exceptions, is primarily occurring in large, stable, and genetically diverse marine turtle populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6509-6523
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • aquatic bushmeat
  • black market
  • bycatch
  • directed take
  • fisheries
  • hunting
  • poaching
  • wildlife trade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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