Aim To examine the exploitation, recovery and current status of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) nesting at Ascension Island.
Location Ascension Island (UK) (7°57′ S, 14°22′ W), South Atlantic Ocean.
Methods We analysed records of the harvest of green turtles nesting at Ascension Island between 1822 and 1935, illustrating the decline in numbers over this period. Using a deterministic age-class structured model we predict the initial number of breeding females present in the population prior to the recorded harvest and compare this to our estimate of the current population based upon our recent annual surveys (1999–2004).
Results Prior to 1822 we estimate the nesting population of green turtles to have been at least 19,000–22,000 individuals in order for the population to have survived the level of harvest recorded. From recent data (1999–2004), we estimate the current breeding population of green turtles at this site to be 11,000–15,000 females. Our results illustrate a dramatic recovery of the population, which is still increasing exponentially and shows no evidence of slowing, suggesting it has not reached 50% of its carrying capacity.
Main conclusions We estimate that, since the 1970s, the Ascension Island population of green turtles has increased by 285% and question the recent listing of this species as endangered by the IUCN (World Conservation Union), in particular in the Atlantic Ocean, where 75% of the populations assessed by the IUCN are increasing. Indeed, we estimate the global population of this species to be in excess of 2.2 million individuals. We suggest that the IUCN's global listing process detracts attention from those populations that are truly threatened with extinction and should not, in its present form, be applied to globally distributed long-lived species such as marine turtles.