Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about the IOSEA Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding:


While there are significant variations across regions and within species, it is acknowledged ‎that many populations of marine turtles are threatened or endangered by a range of man-‎induced and natural factors, including overexploitation for eggs, meat and shell; incidental ‎capture in fisheries; and habitat degradation. This led to growing concern about the need to ‎promote regional and international cooperation for conserving marine turtles that migrate ‎large distances, sometimes crossing ocean basins.

The political motivation for IOSEA was provided by a World Trade Organization dispute ‎‎(the so-called “Shrimp-Turtle Case”, no. 58) and a desire of the United States, in particular, ‎to demonstrate a willingness to negotiate multilateral agreements for marine turtle ‎conservation, which would include provisions for the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs).‎

The Memorandum of Understanding and associated Conservation and Management Plan ‎were developed over a series of intergovernmental negotiation sessions held in Perth, ‎Australia (October 1999), Kuantan, Malaysia (July 2000), and Manila, Philippines (June ‎‎2001).‎


The MoU is a non-binding agreement concluded under the auspices of the UNEP / ‎Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Article IV, para. 4).‎


The Memorandum puts in place a framework through which States of the Indian Ocean and ‎South-East Asia region, as well as other concerned States, can work together to conserve and ‎replenish depleted marine turtle populations for which they share responsibility. The ‎Conservation and Management Plan (CMP) – containing 24 programmes and 105 specific ‎activities – focuses on reducing threats, conserving critical habitat, exchanging scientific data, ‎increasing public awareness and participation, promoting regional cooperation, and seeking ‎resources for implementation.‎


Marine turtles are flagship species, hence it is much simpler to promote the conservation of ‎these animals and their habitats than it would be for ecologically important but socially ‎unattractive, unimportant, or rejected species. Protecting habitats for marine turtles in the ‎Indian Ocean and South-East Asia has countless positive implications for other marine ‎organisms and ecosystems.‎

The IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU is the only international instrument of its kind with region-‎wide coverage, which places it in a unique position of being able to promote exchange of ‎information and cross-fostering of ideas and experience over a wide geographic area. There ‎are other multilateral arrangements operating on a smaller scale in various sub-regions, with ‎varying degrees of effectiveness.


All species of marine turtles that occur in the IOSEA region are covered by the agreement: ‎Loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta , Olive ridley turtle Lepidochelys olivacea, Green turtle ‎Chelonia mydas, Hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricate, Leatherback turtle Dermochelys ‎coriacea, and Flatback turtle Natator depressus.


The waters and coastal States of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia and adjacent seas, ‎extending eastwards to the Torres Strait. For implementation purposes, the area is divided ‎into four sub-regions: South-East Asia + neighbouring countries, Northern Indian Ocean, ‎Northwestern Indian Ocean, and Western Indian Ocean.‎


Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Comoros, Djibouti, ‎Egypt, Eritrea, France, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, ‎Kuwait, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, Oman, ‎Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, ‎Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, Timor Leste, ‎United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, United Kingdom, United States, Viet ‎Nam, and Yemen. (45 in total)‎

Additionally, the MoU is open to signature by other States with an interest in the ‎conservation and management of marine turtles, as well as those States whose vessels may be ‎taking marine turtles directly or incidentally in fishing operations.‎


So far, 35 States have signed the MoU. They are as follows (the date of signature is given in ‎parentheses): Australia (23.06.01), Bahrain (10.12.06), Bangladesh (23.10.03), Cambodia (12.12.02), Comoros (23.06.01), Egypt (01.05.2014), Eritrea (24.11.05), France (05.12.08), India (20.02.07), Indonesia (31.03.05), Islamic Republic of Iran (23.06.01), Jordan(18.03.04), Kenya (09.05.02), Madagascar (22.01.03), Malaysia (19.09.11), Maldives (26.04.10), Mauritius (12.07.02), Mozambique (05.12.08), Myanmar (23.06.01), Oman (16.03.04), Pakistan (12.07.04), Papua New Guinea (10.09.10), Philippines (23.06.01), Saudi Arabia (03.08.05), Seychelles (22.01.03), South Africa (22.02.05), Sri Lanka (23.06.01), Sudan (01.05.2014), Thailand (12.05.04), United Arab Emirates (18.01.07), United Kingdom (27.03.02), United Republic of Tanzania (23.06.01), United States of America (23.06.01), Viet Nam (24.07.01), Yemen (20.08.08).


Brunei Darussalam, China, Djibouti, Japan, Kuwait, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Somalia, Timor Leste.‎


On 1 September 2001. (The MoU becomes effective for new members on the first day of the ‎third month following the date on which they sign.)‎


The official texts exist in three language versions (Arabic, English and French); the working ‎language of the MoU is English. Additionally, informal translations of the MoU have been ‎prepared in a number of other languages, and these are available through the Secretariat or on ‎this website, under "Documents".‎


The agreement area was interpreted at the second meeting of Signatory States to include three ‎major distant water fishing nations: China, Japan and Republic of Korea (all of which have ‎nesting populations and/or turtles foraging in their waters, and all of which have fishing ‎operations that extend into the central IOSEA region). Consideration was given at one time ‎to inviting Solomon Islands to participate in IOSEA, as well, but this idea has not been ‎actively pursued. ‎

A case could be made for expanding the coverage of IOSEA to include the wider Pacific ‎Ocean, to take advantage of the demonstrated strengths and experience of IOSEA; however ‎an equally strong argument could be made for using existing institutional structures in the ‎Pacific, such as SPREP, to provide a home for a Pacific Ocean marine turtle agreement. ‎Moreover, as IOSEA now has a large and diverse number of Signatory States, expanding it ‎could strain the ongoing consolidation of the agreement.‎


  • ‎Directed take, particularly of eggs and nesting females
  • ‎Incidental take, particularly in fisheries
  • ‎Habitat degradation, notably marine pollution and nesting beach alteration


Climate change is perceived as an emerging new threat, from at least two vantage points: (1) ‎Since sex determination of developing turtle embryos is temperature-dependent, higher nest ‎temperatures associated with global warming will produce a greater proportion of female ‎hatchlings – potentially affecting the viability of some populations; higher incubation ‎temperatures could also affect embryo/hatchling survivorship; (2) Rising sea levels will ‎reduce the availability of suitable habitat for nesting turtles, and nests will be more prone to ‎inundation. ‎


The IOSEA Conservation and Management Plan has six objectives, as follows, each of which ‎has a number of specific programmes and activities:‎

  • ‎Reduce direct and indirect causes of marine turtle mortality ‎
  • Protect, conserve and rehabilitate marine turtle habitats ‎
  • Improve understanding of marine turtle ecology and populations through research, ‎monitoring and information exchange
  • ‎Increase public awareness of the threats to marine turtles and their habitats, and enhance ‎public participation in conservation activities ‎
  • Enhance national, regional and international cooperation ‎
  • Promote implementation of the MoU, including the conservation and management plan


The thematic focus of the agreement is sufficiently broad, however a number of emerging ‎issues warrant expanded treatment in the CMP – such as addressing climate change impacts ‎and coastal development issues as they relate to marine turtles in particular. Sub-regional ‎coordination structures, institutional responsibility, and national initiatives need to be ‎clarified and/or strengthened through development of sub-regional working groups, national ‎committees/networks, facilitators/coordinators, etc. ‎


It may be necessary to identify priority populations/management units and concentrate ‎attention and resources on them. Many Signatory States, in their national reports, have ‎already identified what they consider to be priority species based on their assessment of ‎conservation status (although the biological and ecological justifications for these listings ‎may need further discussion, to separate true conservation priorities from abundance ‎categories). Further progress achieved through genetic analyses will help to refine our ‎understanding of individual management units for conservation/ management purposes‎.


One of IOSEA’s unique strengths is its advanced Online Reporting Facility, which provides ‎for the compilation of detailed reports on all aspects of the agreement’s implementation. An ‎Executive Summary of the ‘Overview of IOSEA MoU Implementation’, prepared for the Seventh Meeting of IOSEA Signatory States (Bonn, September 2014), gives a snapshot of progress ‎and challenges to date.

In addition, National Reports submitted by the IOSEA Signatory States can be downloaded (as PDFs) under "Documents".

Some Signatory States have made important contributions to overall IOSEA implementation ‎and most have demonstrated at least some exemplary activities at a national level. Capacity ‎and resources for domestic implementation of the provisions of the CMP remain a challenge ‎for most Signatory States; and many countries could articulate more effectively their specific ‎needs in this regard.‎


The establishment / strengthening of national committees would be an important first step in ‎getting the wide range of stakeholders involved in some aspect of marine turtle conservation ‎at the national level to understand their various roles, responsibilities and potential ‎contributions. This would also promote greater collaboration and synergy between various ‎actors.


The IOSEA Signatory States meet at approximately 2-year intervals to review ‎implementation progress, decide on priority work, pass resolutions, appoint the Advisory ‎Committee, review financial matters etc. Meetings are attended by administrators, scientists, ‎practitioners, representatives of NGOs, IGOs etc.‎

The Seventh Meeting of the Signatory States was held in Bonn, Germany from 8-11 September 2014. 23 Signatory States – about two-thirds of the IOSEA membership – were officially represented at the meeting, gathering more than 50 participants. Six of the eight Advisory Committee members, invited experts and observers from various intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations rounded out the attendance. The meeting had been scheduled for July 2014, but the political situation in Thailand in the first half of the year prompted its postponement and relocation to Bonn. The conference marked the first time the meeting was organised at the headquarters of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) under whose aegis IOSEA was concluded in 2001. It was preceded by a three-day session of the IOSEA Advisory Committee and a one-day session of the Western Indian Ocean - Marine Turtle Task Force (WIO-MTTF).‎

Click for an Executive Summary of the proceedings. The full report is available here.


The IOSEA Advisory Committee, presently comprising 8 members, provides advice on ‎technical matters and is involved in the compilation of species assessments. From mid-2009, ‎members are participating in a modest Technical Support/Capacity-building Programme ‎designed to support Signatory States in need of technical assistance. Committee members are ‎nominated and appointed by the Signatory States, by consensus. Members correspond by e-‎mail and normally meet every two years, immediately before the Signatory State meeting. ‎These meetings are open to observers from national delegations.‎


There is ongoing cooperation with various international NGOs (eg. WWF, through its system ‎of national/regional offices, IUCN, Conservation International etc.), especially in the ‎organisation of/ participation in relevant meetings. IOSEA has also supported project ‎activities of smaller NGOs, especially during the 2006 Year of the Turtle campaign. IOSEA ‎also cooperates closely with a number of other IGOs, such as SEAFDEC, IOTC and FAO. ‎IOSEA Advisory Committee members also forge direct linkages with other MEAs, IGOs and ‎NGOs in their own capacity.‎


There is always room to intensify and diversify cooperation with other organisations working ‎on issues of common interest, however this is governed mainly by issues of internal capacity.‎

There is clearly a need for global cooperation among various turtle instruments (including the ‎CMS MoU for Marine Turtles of the Atlantic Coast of Africa, the Inter-American Convention ‎‎(IAC), existing arrangements for turtles in the Mediterranean, the SE Pacific Regional Seas ‎programme, and any future Pacific turtle agreement). The Convention on Migratory Species ‎is relatively well-positioned, by virtue of its specialisation in migratory species, to offer a ‎platform to promote global governance in this area; however this will depend on internal ‎capacity, motivated leadership, and a sustained long-term commitment.‎

Among the obvious benefits of closer synergies are sharing of information and experience in ‎order to develop best practices and avoid known problem areas. Also, individual marine ‎turtles from some populations migrate and disperse outside the IOSEA region, hence ‎effective conservation can only occur through cooperation between the IOSEA MoU and ‎other relevant accords.‎

All of the IOSEA operating costs are met by voluntary contributions of the Signatory States. ‎Over the years, the Governments of Australia, France, South Africa, United Kingdom and United ‎States have been consistent contributors to the IOSEA Trust Fund; and a ‎number of other countries (eg. India, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, Oman, Thailand) have contributed funds as well.‎ There has also been, on a case by case basis, separate fund-raising for specific projects and ‎activities.‎

Potential for additional private sector financial support – for example with the fisheries and ‎tourism industries – is largely untapped; and more concerted fund-raising could be ‎contemplated if additional (human) resources were available to the Secretariat.


The current level of Secretariat staffing has been sufficient to develop and maintain a ‎substantial programme of work, as evidenced by positive feedback from Signatory States and ‎others; however it has not been sufficient to pursue a number of areas in as much ‎depth/breadth as would be desirable.‎

Additional funding is needed to engage a full time programme officer to perform a range of ‎activities in support of the Signatory States, which cannot presently be undertaken (or at least ‎not as thoroughly as one would like). Ideally extra funding would be available also to ‎support small project activities in selected Signatory States. Also, the core budget is ‎insufficient to get full value of technical support via the Advisory Committee, thus a separate ‎project has been developed to cover travel costs of AC members to provide pro bono ‎professional advice and support in response to Signatory State requests.‎‎


The IOSEA MoU Secretariat – which is also administered by the United Nations ‎Environment Programme – has been operational since April 2003. A favourable co-location ‎arrangement was negotiated with the UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific that ‎would be difficult to emulate elsewhere, in terms of its cost-effectiveness, availability of ‎timely administrative support, proximity of high-quality local service providers, ease of ‎access to/ communication with the broader IOSEA membership etc. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX


Please contact the Secretariat.