Have you ever seen a turtle in the middle of the street? This was likely a simple land turtle; perhaps a box or snapper turtle.
Did you know there are also marine sea turtles? And unlike their cousins the land turtles, most of the sea turtles are endangered.
Marine sea turtles are part of the family Chelonioidea. These are marine reptiles, and they make their homes all over the world’s oceans. In fact, most travel between the oceans. The only ocean that is not inhabited by marine sea turtles is the Arctic Ocean.
While many of us don’t see these marine reptiles very often if ever, they are actually very important to humans. Sea turtles have built in habits and preferences that naturally help the environment. For instance, sea turtles are one of only a handful of sea creatures that graze on sea grasses. They are natural “lawn mowers” of the sea. While this may seem unimportant to the majority of people, in truth it is very important for the underwater ecosystem. The sea grasses must be kept short in order for other marine creatures to make their homes in them. These creatures include some species of fish that provide food for humans, as well as other marine animals. If the sea grass beds disappeared, then these fish and marine creatures would also disappear. This would impact not only the human food supply, but also jobs in the fishing and marine life fields.
Another benefit the sea turtles offer to our eco system comes on land. Sea turtles lay their eggs on beaches. The presence of these eggs on the beach protects against the erosion of the sand. Not only that, but the eggs, and even the baby sea turtles when they hatch, offer nutrients to the land and its vegetation. Along the Florida coast alone sea turtles lay 150,000 pounds of sea turtle eggs a year. Without the sea turtles and their eggs, there is no doubt that parts of our lovely beaches would be lost.
In some cultures the sea turtles are revered as gods, and worshipped. For example, in ancient Peru the Moche painted pictures of sea turtles in their artwork.
In other parts of the world sea turtles and their eggs offer food and nutrition in and of themselves. However, conservationists are working to reverse this practice.
Because of these things it is unfortunate that six out of seven sea turtle species are at lease threatened, and some of them are considered critically endangered. The seven breeds and their standing are as follows: flat back sea turtle—stable. The loggerhead sea turtle is threatened. The Olive Ridley and green sea turtles are endangered. The leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley, and hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered.
Endangered means that the marine sea turtle breed is threatened with extinction. This label is determined by the examination of the dwindling numbers of the species.
The cause of this endangered label is multi-fold. Reasons include natural processes as well as human interference. However, in order to get this grim outlook reversed, it is essential to get human help.
Natural threats come in the form of the sea turtle’s natural predators. Some animals prey on sea turtle eggs for food. These animals include sharks, seagulls, foxes, raccoons, and crabs, among others.
A mother sea turtle can lay a nest of eggs 7-10 times in one breeding season. Each nest may contain one hundred eggs. However, by natural processes only on one out of every hundred eggs will actually hatch and survive until adulthood.
As you can see, it is hard enough for a baby sea turtle to survive on its own, and that is without interference from humans.
Conservationists are working to protect sea turtle eggs when a mother sea turtle leaves them in the sand. They will either construct cages around the nests in order to keep predators out, or they will dig up the entire nest and relocate it to a safer environment.
Threats From Fisherman
A second form of threats comes from fishing equipment and practices. Sea turtle must come to the surface in order to breathe. When fishermen leave their equipment, such as netting, in the water, the sea turtles can get caught in the nets. This keeps them from reaching the surface and getting the air they need. It can also keep them from getting to their food sources.
Recent changes to fishing techniques have cut back dramatically on the number of sea turtle deaths in a season. Many traps are made with a way for turtle escape. Likewise, fishermen can use larger hooks, and Turtle Excluder Devices, or TED’s.
Threats from Environmental Changes
Changes to a sea turtles environment can come in many forms. For instance, climate change can affect the sea turtle. Another environmental change might be the development of beaches for use by humans. Housing, businesses, lighting, and more can each take something away from a sea turtle. Housing and business development changes the beach front, giving the sea turtle less options in laying their eggs.
Lighting along beaches can cause an entirely different problem. Sea turtle eggs naturally hatch at night. By the light of the moon, the baby turtles hurry to the water. This is a natural process that protects the baby turtles from being attacked and eaten by their natural predators.
When artificial lighting is used along beaches, it can confuse the turtles. It is common for the baby turtles to go the wrong way, in which case they will die.
Conservationists are working to right these wrongs. In some areas there are special “police” forces that watch out for sea turtles and their eggs. This is to ensure healthy nesting opportunities, safe nesting periods, and a successful journey to the ocean upon hatching.
Conservationists are working to create “safe havens” along beaches for the sea turtles to hatch their young. They are also working to create awareness among the public . This campaign has been relatively successful. Called “ecotourism”, it has created jobs in and brought tourists to areas that are prone to sea turtle activity.
Another threat comes directly from humans, and their hunt for sea turtles. Meat and eggs of sea turtles are often sold on the black market for a high price.
In recent years there have been efforts in both the United States and Mexico to prevent people from eating sea turtle meat and eggs. Their “Don’t Eat Turtle” campaign has been somewhat successful.
Another effort to protect marine sea turtles has come from China. Turtle farms have sprung up across the country. The farms raise the turtles and sell them on the market. Some people eat turtle meat and eggs. Others use turtle shells in medicinal practices.