Sea turtles do not have an easy life, because they have one big enemy – man. They are illegally hunted in large numbers. According to the WWF, almost all sea turtle species are endangered. People hunt them illegally not only for their meat, but also for the production of luxury products and for medicine. The first ever study to assess sea turtle hunting has been published in Global Change Biology. It was a study that looked in detail at sea turtle hunting in multiple countries and regions. The results are shocking.

This is a worldwide problem

The problem of illegal sea turtle hunting is not limited to a few countries, turtle meat and turtle products are illegally sold all over the world. The study, conducted by a team at Arizona State University (ASU), drew its conclusion from more than 209 peer-reviewed studies, news articles, reports for conservation organizations and questionnaires.

Jessee Senko works on a turtle study Credit: Jesse Senko/

The study says: “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.”

“The numbers are really high and almost certainly underrepresented by several orders of magnitude because it’s just very hard to assess any type of illegal activity,” Arizona State University assistant research professor and study co-lead author Jesse Senko said, as The Guardian reported.

What type of turtle is most often hunted?

The most commonly hunted species were green turtles, accounting for 56 percent of the killings, and hawksbill turtles, accounting for 39 percent. Green turtles are considered Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

“The green turtle is considered the most delicious — it’s the one that has the meat, that pulp, people most like to eat,” Oceanic Society President Roderic Mast, who was not involved in the study, told The Guardian.

Hawksbill turtles, in turn, are a critically endangered species of sea turtle that is hunted for their shells. They are used to make jewelry, fashion accessories and other things.

Credit: Jesse Senko/

Poaching is declining, but slowly

Over the past 10 years, turtle poaching has decreased by about 28%. This is good news, but since most turtles are already endangered, efforts must be made to stop poaching altogether.

“The decline over the past decade could be due to increased protective legislation and enhanced conservation efforts, coupled with an increase in awareness of the problem or changing local norms and traditions,” co-lead author and ASU School of Life Sciences environmental life sciences program Ph.D. student Kayla Burgher said in an ASU press release.

Importance of the study

This study is very important because it lets us know how serious the problem is. However, the study may not be accurate, the turtle trade is an organized crime that is very poorly monitored.

“Assessing any illegal activity is difficult, and the taking and trade of sea turtles is no exception, especially when it becomes organized or connected to crime syndicates. Our assessment also did not include eggs or turtle products, such as bracelets or earrings made from sea turtle shells that could not be easily attributed to individual turtles,” Senko said in the press release.


Thanks to the information from the study, conservationists will know in which areas specific species of turtles are being hunted. This will help them ensure greater protection of endangered species. A particularly large concentration of illegal sea turtle hunting is in Madagascar and Southeast Asia.

“We really need to look at those socioeconomic and cultural drivers behind the illegal take,” he said, as The Guardian reported. “Because as long as there’s demand from wealthier countries, poorer countries are going to fill that with the supply of turtles.”

It is sad that sea turtles have become such a popular target for illegal hunting. If the necessary efforts are made to protect sea turtles and actively combat poaching, the numbers of illegally caught animals could continue to decrease in the future.


Photo credit:  Jesse Senko /