Finding ‘Lost’ Species: Renewed Hope for Hawksbills

As you read this, researchers in tropical forests around the world are searching for the most endangered – and possibly extinct – amphibian species on the planet. This scientific scavenger hunt may rekindle hope for some species thought to be long-lost.

Meanwhile, in the eastern Pacific Ocean, a similar endeavor is reaping great benefits for sea turtles. In a study published this week in the international conservation journal Oryx, researchers from more than 10 countries revealed results from a two-year, region-wide effort to find and catalogue records of hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), a population that had been largely written off as functionally extinct by many experts.

Not so fast, say researchers who undertook the search for the turtles, performed under the auspices of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, or Iniciativa Carey del Pacifico Oriental.

According to the study’s findings, it turns out that hawksbills persist throughout the region, and in higher numbers than previously believed. El Salvador and Nicaragua host the region’s most important nesting sites, while Mexico harbors key in-water sites. However, the hawksbill’s situation is still dire – they are considered among the most endangered sea turtle species in the world – so swift, effective conservation efforts are necessary to ensure their continued survival in the region.

The success of this initiative owes to its collaborative, grassroots nature involving participants from more than a dozen institutions, including governments, NGOs, universities and local communities from Mexico to Peru.

This ‘rediscovery’ instills new hope for hawksbill conservation because records of their presence essentially occur along the entire 15,000-kilometer (9,300-mile) Pacific coast of the Americas. This means that where some have been found already, many more might be hidden away, still escaping detection by curious conservationists.

That’s something that efforts like the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative aim to change.

Dr. Bryan Wallace is the science advisor for the Sea Turtle Flagship Program in CI’s Global Marine Division. He helped to compile, organize and analyze these reports from throughout the eastern Pacific region.

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