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COLLECTIVE ACTIONS FOR IMPROVING THE CONSERVATION STATUS OF THE EU SEA TURTLE POPULATIONS (LIFE EUROTURTLES)
Start date: Sep 1, 2016, End date: Aug 31, 2021 PROJECT  ONGOING 

Background The project focuses on areas that are pivotal for the conservation of the two sea turtle species occurring in the EU and listed as priority species in Annex II of the Habitats Directive, the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas). In the EU, the loggerhead turtle has major nesting sites in Greece and Cyprus, and limited nesting in Italy. Most turtles from these sites remain in the eastern Mediterranean, with key foraging grounds located in EU waters, such as the Adriatic (Italy, Slovenia, Croatia), Ionian (Italy, Greece), and the Levantine basin (Cyprus). In the EU, the green turtle only breeds in Cyprus, and its foraging grounds in EU waters are in Cyprus and Greece (Casale & Margaritoulis, 2010). Those foraging grounds are also frequented by turtles from other Mediterranean nesting sites. The nesting sites and foraging grounds located in the EU are extremely important for Mediterranean sea turtles. However, anthropogenic threats are also particularly intensive in the EU, with high coastal development and fishing activities, which combined affect sea turtles at all stages of life, from the critical reproductive phase to all age classes at sea. The activities of this project are focused on those areas where conservation measures are considered important and urgent, and could make a difference for the sea turtle status at EU, national and local levels. The project includes six EU countries: Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Slovenia. Objectives The aim of the LIFE EUROTURTLES project is to improve the conservation status of the EU populations of two priority sea turtle species, the loggerhead turtle and the green turtle. The specific project objectives are to: Reduce the impact of anthropogenic threats at nesting sites; Reduce the impact of anthropogenic threats, in particular fishery-related threats in foraging grounds; Improve the effectiveness of marine Natura 2000 sites for sea turtle conservation by extending current sites over turtle hot spot areas and improving management; Set up a consistent approach to the conservation of the EU sea turtle populations in order to optimise current and future efforts and resources in the EU; Contribute to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive with consistent methods and with baseline data for improving the capacity of monitoring the conservation status of the EU sea turtle populations in the future; Promote among EU citizens the concept of shared responsibility for EU sea turtle populations and the value of natural marine resources of which sea turtles are viewed as an excellent and charismatic flagship species; and Set up an EU network for sea turtle conservation based on common objectives and methods. Expected results: New regulations for the protection of 45 sea turtle nesting sites in three countries (Greece, Italy and Cyprus); Nest protection activities established in 19 sites in the three countries (Greece, Italy and Cyprus), resulting in 700 extra nests successfully protected per year (3 500 during the project and more afterwards); At least two marine Natura 2000 sites created/expanded in two countries (Croatia and Italy) to cover turtle hot spot areas; 130 fishing boats involved in voluntary dynamic fishery management to avoid disturbance in eight turtle hotspot areas in six countries (Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Malta), resulting in around 700 fewer turtles captured per year (2 100 during the project and more afterwards); 290 fishing boats in 10 areas in five countries (Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Slovenia) informed about onboard best practices to reduce sea turtle mortality, resulting in more than 600 turtles correctly treated per year (2 000 during the project and more afterwards); Modified fishing gear (set net) to reduce turtle catch introduced in three countries (Croatia, Cyprus and Slovenia) through a minimum of 20 fishing boats; Two coastal foraging areas in two countries (Cyprus and Greece) cleaned of ghost gear; Three rescue centres and rescue networks in three countries (Croatia, Cyprus and Greece) improved, resulting in their capacity to treat more than 40 additional turtles per year (160 during the project and more afterwards); An app for smartphones to report sea turtle encounters/catches, used by fishermen for avoiding sea turtle hotspots and also as an awareness tool (a public competition); and A report and guidelines on best practices for EU sea turtle conservation.

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