by Karina Bayless
Why should we care about sea turtles?
Sea turtles have been around for over 100 million years. Because they have learned to adapt to so many changes throughout that time, we can learn a lot from them. Sea turtles, in recent years, have been struggling to survive, and that can be primarily pinned on the negative impacts of humans' behaviors and habits. If sea turtles have been around for 100 million years, and are struggling to survive, what does this mean for humans? There is still time to rise up and take action to help save sea turtles, and ultimately save the human race as well. Not only should we care because this is a time-honored creature, but we should also care because it is a huge red flag and warning sign for the rest of the world. If this pre-historic creature could adapt to various massive changes, and cannot overcome what they are facing today, then who can? We can learn and educate others to change our behaviors, and learn from our past mistakes.
Why are they so important?
Sea turtles play an important role in the oceans ecosystems & food web, and they also help to maintain marine habitats, as well as help cycle nutrients. As populations of sea turtles decline, it ultimately and negatively effects the health of the world’s ocean. Because human impacts are responsible for the rapid decline of sea turtle populations, it is up to us to take action and work towards conserving our oceans and stabilize sea turtle populations. Educating yourself will help you take the first step in participating in this.
What type of sea turtles are at risk?
Throughout the world, six out of the seven sea turtle species are either threatened or endangered due to human activities. The seven species of sea turtles are: Leatherbacks, Greens, Loggerheads, Hawksbills, Olive Ridleys, Kemp’s Ridleys, and Flatbacks. All of these sea turtles except for the Flatbacks are either threatened or endangered. Flatbacks cannot be considered either threatened, or endangered, because there is insufficient data.
Why is there a decline in sea turtle populations?
The biggest threats that have caused a decline in sea turtle populations are: entanglement in fishing gear, poaching and illegal trade of sea turtle eggs, meat, and shells, coastal development (habitat loss or too much light), plastic and other marine debris, global warming, boating accidents, and ocean pollution.
There are multiple ecological effects that have also contributed to the threat of extinction for sea turtles. One of these ecological effects that are contributing to the threat of extinction for sea turtles is the decline in sea grass beds. Sea turtles, more specifically green sea turtles, are one of few sea animals to eat sea grass. Sea turtles and manatees help to maintain the health of the sea grass beds, and since there has been a decline in sea turtle populations (due to human impacts), there has also been a decline in sea grass beds. This cycle continues-less sea turtles leads to less sea grass, as well as less sea grass will lead to less sea turtles. Not only does this decline in sea grass effect sea turtles, but it also effects various species of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. Sea grass beds provide breeding and developmental grounds, and without sea grass beds, multiple marine species that humans tend to harvest, would be lost as well. The ecosystem is very fragile, and this is a primary example. When you lose or decrease one part of the ecosystem, the other parts will ultimately follow, and decrease as well.
How can you get involved/make a change for the better?
There are multiple ways that you can help restore sea turtle populations.
You can talk with your friends, co-workers, family, etc. about the issue. Education is the first step in conservation. Remind people to pick up their trash, recycle, and remind them why it’s important to do so.
Be mindful. If you see a sea turtle on the beach, do not approach it to take a photo with it. Let it be, be thankful to have seen one, and encourage others to do so. Be aware of sea turtle nesting area and avoid both nesting and hatching sea turtles.
If you live near the beach, turn off your lights at night! Sea turtle hatchlings use light from the moon to find their way to the water at night. Hatchlings can be easily confused by artificial light, and end up heading inland instead of out to sea.
Participate in local beach clean-ups! Sea turtles can become tangled in plastic and trash, and they can also mistake trash for food. Not only will participating in a beach clean-up positively affect sea turtle populations, but it will also positively affect other species that typically spend time on the shore or in shallow waters!
Reduce the amount of chemicals that you use. Chemicals that are typically used on lawns or in the home can wash into coastal waters. These chemicals are typically toxic, and end up killing multiple types of plants and animals. Properly dispose of toxic chemicals.
Volunteer! That’s where my passion started. I volunteered with a program called Projects Abroad. I participated in their Sea Turtle and Coastal Conservation program in Mexico. It was super fun, educational, and influential. I understand that not everyone can take the time to do programs like this-but if you have the time, check it out!
Here are two pictures from my time in Mexico, participating in the Sea Turtle and Coastal Conservation Program. We took data while the sea turtles hatched, and protected them from poachers, and other predators that they would encounter on their first journey to the sea!*Remember-unless you are with qualified scientists, do not interfere with sea turtle hatchlings.*
If you would like to read my story about volunteering for this project, or if you would like to volunteer, check out this link: https://www.projects-abroad.org/volunteer-projects/conservation-and-environment/sea-turtle-and-coastal-conservation/volunteer-mexico