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School of Mathematical Sciences

World Sea Turtle Day 2024: How can social media help conserve sea turtles?

Learn how researchers use social media, machine learning and mathematical modelling can be used to observe and conserve sea turtles.


Dr Papafitsoros' team uses sea turtle photo-identification, including individual animal’s unique facial patterns, to develop methods that will enhance and automate this process using AI techniques. Kostas also maintains a globally unique and continuously expanding photo-ID database that currently spans 24 years and contains over 1600 unique sea turtles at Zakynthos Island, Greece.

Dr Papafitsoros has developed an innovative tool using social media records that integrates image processing, machine learning and mathematical modelling, to measure visitors’ viewing pressure on sea turtles. The central idea is that the more often an individual animal appears in social media the more viewing pressure it is subjected to. Among key findings is that resident turtles are disproportionately targeted in ecotourism activities resulting in high injury and fatality risks, including boat collisions. The COVID-19 pandemic reduced the tourist pressure on turtles, with the overall pressure declining during 2020 to just 25% of that of 2019, rising to 50% in 2021 and exceeding the pre-pandemic pressure levels during 2022 and 2023.

With the help of a 2023 QMUL Impact Acceleration Fund, and the Greek NGOs ARCHELON and MEDASSET, Dr Papafitsoros has created a unique interactive web-platform Zakynthos Turtles, which actively engages visitors and tour operators with responsible sea turtle conservation on Zakynthos Island and helps adopt a turtle-friendly attitude in ecotourism. Through this platform, visitors upload images of unique turtles that they have observed for individual photo-identification and receive information about them in real time which includes their behaviours, interesting stories, and quantification of the human pressure that their observed turtle is subject to (as simplified dissemination of Dr. Papafitsoros’ research).

Since 2024, the project has also been supported by the British Chelonia Group and a QMUL Centre for Public Engagement Small Grant.





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