Sea Turtle Identification Project

Over the past centuries, there has been a sharp decline in sea turtle populations worldwide. Human impacts, such as tourism development, leading to the destruction of nesting beaches, harvesting for meat, eggs, medicine, and large sea turtle bycatch as a result of overfishing have led to the majority of species being listed as vulnerable or even endangered. Consequently, these declines have motivated worldwide conservation programs to increasingly concentrate on researching population trends. In the waters of Zanzibar, the sea turtle population size is still unknown, while sea turtles are being hunted for their meat and eggs on a daily basis. 


To contribute to the conservation and monitoring of sea turtle populations in this area, a population baseline must first be established. Where previous studies on sea turtle populations relied on standard ‘capture-mark-recapture’ methods based on tagging as a tool to establish population size, our project will rely on the photo-identification technique.

This technique, increasingly used as a reliable tool to track individuals over time, has many advantages over tagging. Where conventional tagging methods can be costly, stress-inducing on the animal, difficult to apply, and easy to fall off, photo-identification offers high potential as this technique it is non-invasive, low-cost, and long-lasting.

How will we determine the sea turtle population?

Since no baseline has yet been established in the waters surrounding Zanzibar Island, the main objective of this project will be to establish a baseline on the sea turtle population using photo identification. The unique and asymmetrical pattern of facial scutes on the cheeks of the sea turtles act similar to fingerprints, and by adding the photos to a database, we can identify individual sea turtles in a population, and track them over time. The first step is to collect as many photos as possible. 


Next, we will visually transform the photos into « fingerprints » and save them in a database. To transform the photos, we will provide each facial scute with a set of numbers, like in the photo.
Because the patterns of scutes on their face are asymmetric, each sea turtle will end up with a unique photo-ID code for that individual.

When having an extensive database, we can ultimately estimate the population size and structure and gather reliable information on their distribution, habitat use, and migration patterns. Besides this, we can determine the sex ratio in the population by using the photos below.

Submit your pictures/videos here :

Please fill the form even if you don't have a picture of the sea turtle. Every sightings should be recorded.