For more than 150 million years, sea turtles have graced our oceans. Unfortunately, over the last 200 years, many sea turtle threats, resulting from human activities, are jeopardizing the survival of these beautiful creatures.
Nearly all species of sea turtles are classified as Endangered, with 2 of the 7 species classified as Critically Endangered, according to IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Today, sadly only 1 in 1000 will survive to adulthood.
From minute one after Mama leaves, sea turtles start the game of survival of the luckiest. Eggs in the nest face raid from natural predators such as racoons, dogs, crabs and even ants. If they manage to emerge as teeny tiny hatchlings, they become bite-sized snacks for predators as they clumsily make their way to the sea. This life is challenging enough, but then cue the humans and sea turtle populations plummet.
Hunted for their eggs, meat, skin and shells, poaching and over-exploitation has contributed to their startling decline, as well as other sea turtle threats, such as habitat destruction through irresponsible coastal developments, plastic pollution, boat strikes, climate change and incidental capture in fishing nets (bycatch).
Read on to learn more about these sea turtle threats.
If there is fishing, there is bycatch. Bycatch, or the incidental catch of non-target species, in fishing gear intended for a different species, is the greatest threat to sea turtles, dolphins, seabirds and marine populations worldwide. Approximately 40% of the world’s catch is bycatch. The non-target animals captured, dead or dying, are released back to the sea as trash.
You can help reduce fishery bycatch by eliminating or reducing seafood in your diet. You can switch to faux foods, such as plant-based imitation tuna, crab and shrimp.
Plastic is no joke. Sea turtles are affected by plastic pollution at every stage of their life. From the moment they leave their nests, they are faced with getting stuck in plastic obstacles on the beach before finding “safety” in the sea, where they also run the risk of getting stuck in things like six pack rings and discarded fishing nets.
Confusing plastic bags for jellyfish and other garbage as food also happens all too frequently. When these objects are ingested, they can become trapped in the stomach and lead to starvation and death.
Do not litter. Most trash reaches the ocean via rivers and 80% of it originates from landfills and urban areas.
Reduce, reuse and recycle. The best waste is the one we don’t produce.
In Canada, up to 15 billion plastic bags are used every year and close to 57 million straws used daily. First reduce the amount of plastic you use by bringing your own bags, using a metal or bamboo straw, reusable water bottles or opting for shampoo bars and conditioners over the bottle. Reuse items where you can and finally recycle anything left over.
Although many countries have laws in place to protect sea turtles, the illegal trade of eggs, meat and shells still continues today in small coastal communities. Unfortunately, often seen as bad people, the egg-collectors or “poachers” don’t have the resources to create sustainable livelihoods. The reality comes down to deciding to feed one’s family or protecting the wildlife. A difficult decision.
Support organizations that are dedicated to sea turtle conservation. Often, they work with the local communities to create job opportunities focused on eco-tourism.
Divine Depth is happy to partner with ARCAS, a non-profit wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization based in Guatemala. One of their wildlife centres operates three sea turtle hatcheries and works with the local community to reduce egg collecting. Adult residents are given the opportunity to participate in training courses in ecotourism, food preparation and preservation, gender, health and sanitization to help them create healthier and more sustainable livelihoods.
Almost half of the world’s population lives on or within 100 kilometers of the coast. The human alternation of coastlines through beachfront construction of homes, hotels, restaurants and roads, often for tourism, as well as seawall construction, nearshore dredging and oil platform construction are causing more failed nesting attempts.
Nesting females return to the same beaches where they were hatched to lay their eggs. Sea walls create impenetrable barriers and unnatural erosion of beaches. With increased coastal populations, objects, such as beach chairs, are left on the beaches, creating obstacles for nesting females and hatchlings. An increase in boating activities also makes us see more collisions with turtles that need to come to the surface to breathe.
Also, when sea turtles hatch, natural light on the horizon guides them to the ocean. Unfortunately, lights from hotels, homes and other buildings can disorient the hatchlings and cause them to head in the wrong direction. This makes them even more susceptible to predators.
Tourism development in sea turtle hotspots around the world have hurt conservation efforts. When planning a holiday, carefully research coastal hotels in the area and book with one that is clear on how they support turtle conservation efforts and limit their impacts on beach habitat. A huge pro is to find one that operates their own turtle hatchery!
Increased temperatures affect natural sex ratios. Warmer sand temperatures produce more female hatchlings. A recent study in Australia found that 99% of the green sea turtles around the research site were female.
Rises in sea levels and more frequent and severe storms linked to climate change are also contributing to loss of beach habitat for nesting through erosion and flooding.
Reduce your carbon footprint. Power your home with renewable energy. Invest in energy-efficient appliances. Unplug electronics when not in use. Walk. Take shorter showers. Eat more meat-free meals.
Every little bit counts, no matter how small!
Turtle Shell Trade
Hawksbill sea turtles are recognized by their beautiful gold and brown shells. Unfortunately, they are so remarkable that the hawksbills have been hunted for centuries to create jewelry and other luxury items and are now listed as Critically Endangered. Illegal trade of their shells still continues.
Don’t buy items that look or say they are made of turtle shells. When in doubt, do not buy and educate other tourists about the plight of sea turtles!
Knowing the wide range of threats, both natural and human, organizations that run turtle hatcheries are essential to protect sea turtles in the early stages of their lives. Doing so gives them a better chance of survival in this hard as a turtle shell world.
And lastly, as always, dive safe and have fun!
Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.