University of Exeter scientists taking part in an international study report 35 percent of the world's green turtles are found within protected areas, a much higher figure that would be expected as only a small proportion of shallow oceans are designated as as such.
Regulated by governments and non-government organizations, protected areas make up parts of the ocean in which marine activities such as fishing are restricted.
"Our global overview revealed that sea turtles appear in marine protected areas far more than would be expected by chance," Exeter researcher Brendan Godley said in a university release Monday.
"There has been debate over the value of MPAs, but this research provides compelling evidence that they may be effective in providing safe foraging habitats for large marine creatures, such as green turtles."
The research team analyzed the movements of 145 green turtles, which can travel thousands of miles from their breeding sites to their feeding grounds, using satellite tracking data gathered by collaborating scientists from 10 countries.
The longest-established protected areas were the most likely to contain turtles, the researchers said.
"This study unlocks some of the secrets surrounding the life cycle of marine turtles, whose movements have long been a mystery," British Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said.
"The results will mean we will better manage the oceans and protect turtle habitats, which are key to helping them survive."