8
Conclusions and Recommendations

Overarching Conclusion: Although abundance estimates are critical for assessing sea-turtle populations, demographic or vital-rate parameters are critical for understanding and predicting trends in sea-turtle populations. The committee concludes that (1) in the United States, critical vital rates have not been adequately determined; (2) the most important procedural enhancements would be improved coordination in data collection and availability, a more efficient and transparent permitting process, and increased archiving of tissue samples; and (3) sea-turtle assessments have not been isolated from broader evaluations of status and threats and have rarely included scientists from other quantitative-modeling fields.


Overarching Recommendation: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) should develop a coherent national strategy for sea-turtle assessments to improve the data-collection methods, data quality, and data availability and to develop a rigorous plan for external review of data and models used to assess population status and trends. The strategy would benefit from the focused attention of expert groups that include government officials, academics, and nongovernmental organization personnel. As recommended in all expert working group documents (see Table 1.2), research should emphasize vital-rate estimation (averages, annual variance, and ecological or environmental mechanisms that drive vital rates) and improvement in abundance estimates. The most serious demographic data gaps to be addressed include in-water abundance, hatchling-cohort production, sur-



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8 Conclusions and Recommendations Overarching Conclusion: Although abundance estimates are critical for assessing sea­turtle populations, demographic or vital­rate parameters are critical for understanding and predicting trends in sea­turtle popula­ tions. The committee concludes that (1) in the United States, critical vital rates have not been adequately determined; (2) the most important pro­ cedural enhancements would be improved coordination in data collection and availability, a more efficient and transparent permitting process, and increased archiving of tissue samples; and (3) sea­turtle assessments have not been isolated from broader evaluations of status and threats and have rarely included scientists from other quantitative­modeling fields. Overarching Recommendation: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) should develop a coherent national strategy for sea­turtle assessments to improve the data­collection methods, data quality, and data availability and to develop a rigorous plan for external review of data and models used to assess population status and trends. The strategy would benefit from the focused attention of expert groups that include government officials, academics, and nongovernmental organization personnel. As recommended in all expert working group documents (see Table 1.2), research should empha­ size vital­rate estimation (averages, annual variance, and ecological or environmental mechanisms that drive vital rates) and improvement in abundance estimates. The most serious demographic data gaps to be addressed include in­water abundance, hatchling­cohort production, sur­ 

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 ASSESSMENT OF SEA-TURTLE STATUS AND TRENDS vival of immature turtles and nesting females, age at sexual maturity, breeding rates, and clutch frequency.1 More precise estimates of anthropo­ genic mortality are needed to evaluate impacts. All sources of data should be evaluated for quality, consistency, spatial and temporal heterogeneity and trends, and data gaps. Detailed suggestions for improving the collection, analysis, and syn ­ thesis of data are provided at the end of each chapter of this report, and Chapter 6 describes appropriate models and procedures for assessments. Because assessments will involve different circumstances and manage ­ ment needs, the committee cannot recommend one standardized set of priorities for all assessments beyond its strong recommendation for a greater focus on demographic parameters. Some specific conclusions and recommendations that elaborate on the overarching conclusion and recommendation and represent the highest­priority needs are presented below. Conclusion: Sea­turtle population assessments in the United States are based too heavily on estimates of abundance of adult females on nesting beaches. Although estimates of abundance of adult females are critical, without knowledge of accompanying changes in demographic rates at all life stages, the proximate and ultimate causes of population trends cannot be determined. Selection and evaluation of the best management options depend on an understanding of the basis of changes in popula ­ tion abundance. Recommendation: NMFS and USFWS should ensure that estimates of abundance at life stages in addition to adult females are generated and that demographic rates are integrated with estimates of abundance in population assessments. Conclusion: Inadequate information is available for population assess­ ments because the data have not been collected or, if they have been col­ lected, have not been analyzed or made accessible in a manner that allows them to be useful. Recommendations: • NMFS and USFWS should develop plans for the collection and analysis of data to address data gaps. The development should include outside experts who collect, analyze, and use the data. 1 Clutch frequency refers to the number of clutches deposited by an individual turtle in a nesting season.

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 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS • NMFS and USFWS should present a comprehensive assessment plan and a data plan to sea­turtle biologists to facilitate effective data collection for the integrated approach and to obtain input from them on improvement of the plans. • NMFS and USFWS, with other government agencies and funding sources, should support the collection and analysis of those data. • To avoid the overlooking of data sources, NMFS should create an on­line metadatabase2 that identifies as many of the sea­turtle datasets in the United States and its territories as possible and is similar to the docu ­ ment created for in­water projects in Florida (see Chapter 7). The database should be updated regularly. • NMFS and USFWS should support a program to safeguard and make accessible as many sea­turtle databases as possible, past and pres­ ent. There is some urgency to this task while data collectors are still avail ­ able to provide essential metadata. • NMFS and USFWS should partner with other government agen­ cies, universities, and nongovernmental organizations to improve coordi­ nation among data holders. Incentives should be developed to encourage data sharing. • NMFS and USFWS should arrange for a review of data now being collected under their auspices or with their support and evaluate the costs and benefits. For example, the sea­turtle stranding and salvage networks should be evaluated, perhaps with the assistance of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center. Conclusion: Reviews of federal population assessments and research plans are not sufficiently rigorous and transparent. Recommendations: • NMFS and USFWS should develop a general framework for sea­ turtle assessment procedures, including data evaluation, model review, and management­strategy evaluation. • NMFS and USFWS should ensure that all research plans generated in federal agencies are reviewed by panels that include federal and non­ federal scientists. Using reviewers with quantitative skills, such as skills in population assessment and statistical analysis, is particularly important. Conclusion: There are unnecessary obstacles to collection and analysis of critical data, including inadequate quantitative training of scientists and an inadequate process for issuing research permits. 2 A metadatabase manages data that provide information about other data or are derived from other data.

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 ASSESSMENT OF SEA-TURTLE STATUS AND TRENDS Recommendations: • NMFS and USFWS should partner with other government agen­ cies and universities to improve the quantitative skills of people who are involved in designing, reviewing, and implementing the projects and assessments that are generated under a comprehensive assessment plan. These efforts will be short term (e.g., recruiting quantitatively skilled experts, improving the quantitative skills of current personnel) and long term (e.g., improving quantitative training of students). • NMFS and USFWS should convene a working group to evalu­ ate the permitting process for research projects and develop methods to expedite the process while meeting legislative requirements and intent. Participants should include representatives of the permitting agencies and research scientists. The review should weigh unintended consequences of permitting delays and lost research opportunities, should review the potential risks and benefits to the listed species of changing permitting requirements and procedures, and should assess the extent to which scru­ tiny of research permits has resulted in substantial take reductions.