In a captivating two-part series, Isabelle Eaton explores some of the current threats that Sea Turtles are facing living in the wild and what you can do to help save this keystone species.
Sea turtles are what is known as a keystone species, as they have been on earth for over 100 million years (since dinosaurs roamed the earth). This means they are now an essential part of the ecosystems they live in. However, due to human activity and the increased threats that they now face, six out of the seven sea turtle species are now classified as threatened or endangered. Their extinction would cause a massive breakdown of marine and beach ecosystems which in the long run would also have a huge effect on humans as we use the oceans as a source of food.
So, what are some of the biggest threats that sea turtles face and what can we do to help save them?
Global warming is affecting sea turtle populations across the world. The temperature of the sand where eggs are laid has a significant impact on the sex of turtle hatchlings, meaning that the increased temperature alters the sex ratios of hatchlings. Research has shown that this will lead to a female population bias as they incubate at a higher temperature then males. In the long run this will mean mature females will have less males to mate with and populations will eventually start to decline.
In some countries across the world, particularly Central America and Asia sea turtles are seen as a source of food and their eggs are also seen as a delicacy. This has had a drastic impact on the population numbers as sea turtles take decades (around 20-30 years) to mature and be able to reproduce. Some sea turtles also fall victim to the illegal shell trade as their carapaces are used to create jewellery and other luxury items. Scientists have estimated that the Hawksbill population has declined by 90 percent over the past 100 years.
This is a significant issue which can have a catastrophic impact on the already vulnerable hatchlings, especially as it is estimated that only 1 in 1000 hatchlings actually make it to adulthood. Light pollution can cause hatchlings to become disoriented when they emerge from the nest. Artificial lighting from places such as beach bars and streetlights will make the hatchlings will go towards that light as it will be brighter than the moonlight which they should follow being the fastest path to the sea.
There are many ways in which humans have had a detrimental impact on sea turtle populations over the years. One of these is pollution and plastic debris in the oceans. It is estimated that every year over 1 million marine animals are killed because of this. An especially prominent tissue for sea turtles is that they are unable to distinguish between plastic bags and jellyfish in the ocean. If ingested, plastic bags can cause the turtle to starve to death. Marine fishing is also posing a significant impact for sea turtles as they get caught up in fishing nets which prevents the turtle from coming to the surface to breathe and causes them to drown. Bait lines are also a problem as sea turtles can ingest the hooks which will then get stuck and without medical attention this can cause them to starve to death.
So, what can we do to help?
There are many easy ways in which we can help sea turtles. One of the most important ways is to reduce plastic consumption and ensure that it is disposed of properly. This can be done easily by simply using reusable bags and refusing plastics in supermarkets. You could also participate in global beach clean-ups to keep beaches and the oceans clean. Making sure your seafood is sourced responsibly is also important.
About the author: Isabelle Eaton has recently completed her undergraduate degree and is now starting her Masters studying Sustainable Development at UWE. She has her own blog and is passionate about all things nature. She is also the Wildlife and Environment Editor here at Wild Magazine and is working towards a career in conservation so she can make a positive impact on the world.