Six of the seven recognized turtle species are classified as vulnerable to extinction, threatened, or critically endangered. The population status of the seventh species, the flatback turtle, is unknown due to a lack of data. A variety of human actions have harmed the turtle’s ecosystems and placed its future in jeopardy. There are indirect impacts from fishing, deforestation, and climate change, in addition to the overt hunting of sea turtles and their nests. The extinction of large numbers of sea turtles has a negative effect on their vital ecological position on our planet. The critically endangered Eastern Pacific leatherback turtle will become extinct in 60 years if current trends continue. This blog discusses the current threats to sea turtles.
Why They Matter
Sea turtles are an important component of marine ecosystems. They aid in the preservation of seagrass beds and coral reefs, which support commercially important species like shrimp, lobster, and tuna. Sea turtles are living members of a group of reptiles that have lived on Earth for the past 100 million years and have sailed our oceans. Turtles have a significant cultural and tourism importance. Five of the seven species are present in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. The remaining two species, however, have limited distributions: the Kemp’s ridley turtle is found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, and the flatback turtle is found primarily in northern Australia and southern Papua New Guinea.
Poaching And Hunting
7,000-year-old sea turtle bones and shells have been found in excavated human settlement sites. For decades, sea turtle meat has been a staple in tropical coastal tribes’ diets. Sea turtles became an unhealthy food source as they were hunted in larger numbers. Sea turtle eggs became a common food item for humans, and some countries continue to collect them. Historically, egg hunters would take all of the eggs from the nest, even though the sea turtle was still laying them, resulting in dwindling populations.
Since sea turtles take decades to mature sexually, any threats to their population can have significant and long-term consequences. Despite the fact that killing sea turtles is prohibited in 42 countries, frequent poaching of sea turtles and sea turtle eggs continues due to a lack of enforcement capacity and resources.
Entanglement And Bycatch
Bycatch from fishing gear is a major factor in the decline of sea turtle populations. For the last 50 years, bycatch from industrial fishing has been the leading source of sea turtle mortality. A sea turtle that becomes entangled in fishing nets is at risk of drowning. Due to stress or hooks stuck in their mouth, even released turtles are unlikely to survive.
Turtle bycatch is currently being researched by scientists. Changes in hook size or shape, as well as the use of turtle-excluder devices (TEDs), have been proposed as solutions. TEDs are trap-door systems attached to shrimper’s trawling nets that enable sea turtles to escape while still catching shrimp. To exit the net, these devices depend on the turtle’s weight to force the door shut. Shrimp are too light to open the lock, so they stay inside the net’s confines.
With 335 million metric tons of plastic generated annually, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch epitomizes the problem of plastic pollution. Since a plastic bag may resemble a jellyfish, sea turtles sometimes mistake bits of plastic for food. Plastic poisoning will result in death if consumed. The other danger posed by plastic is entanglement, which may result in drowning or injury. Over 1,000 turtles are thought to die each year as a result of entanglement in plastic waste.
Finally, oil spills are another pollution problem that turtles face. The 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, for example, was the largest marine spill in US history. About 134 million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 87 days. According to NOAA scientists, the spill killed thousands of sea turtles and wounded many more. Worse, important breeding grounds and habitats were poisoned, resulting in far-reaching consequences.
Female sea turtles attempting to lay their eggs on an existing beach face numerous obstacles. Physical barriers, such as sea walls, jetties, and sandbag systems, are often constructed to prevent beach erosion, but they can prevent nesting sea turtles from crossing high tide lines to nest. It’s possible that the nest would be submerged before the eggs hatch if it’s located below the high tide line. Beaches are progressively being filled with sand from other locations, which can pose problems for establishing nests and egg incubation if the new sand causes temperature, gas exchange, or water content differences.
Man-made structures can affect hatchling survival even if the beach is not degraded and barrier-free. The hatchlings must reach the shore after hatching and digging their way out of the nest. Hatchlings typically do this by orienting themselves toward the brightest light source. Moonlight is outshone by artificial light sources from beachside bars and restaurants, despite the fact that this was traditionally the natural light of the moon. Hatchlings can become confused by the artificial lights and begin to crawl in the wrong direction. People are becoming more aware of the importance of preserving nesting beaches for sea turtle survival as a result of education programs and conservation initiatives.
Ocean temperatures and sea levels are rising as a result of climate change. More female sea turtles and fewer males are being produced as a result of rising temperatures. To produce males, sea turtles need cooler egg temperatures. When nests are consistently colder, all of the eggs hatch as females. A lack of male sea turtles can cause problems with reproductive success and genetic variation in the future. If sea levels rise, turtle nesting sites around the world may become flooded, posing a threat to their survival. These important nesting sites must be protected, in addition to beach construction, contamination, and bycatch.
According to a coalition of conservation scientists and organizations, including Fauna & Flora International, we only have ten years to put steps in place to save it. According to a population model, the sea turtle population could gradually stabilize and increase if conservation efforts are focused and scaled up at high-priority locations, and projects are rapidly introduced and maintained.
New research has shown that by implementing specific measures, the Eastern Pacific leatherback could be rescued from extinction over the next ten years. Two things in particular must be accomplished:
- Preventing the deaths of 200-260 leatherback turtles each year as a result of “bycatch” in fisheries.
- Better nest security and incubation conditions result in an increase of 7,000-8,000 hatchlings per year.
Fortunately, several of these events are still taking place in different parts of the leatherback’s range. Indeed, the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IATTC) recently authorized stronger steps to track and reduce the impact of bycatch on leatherbacks and other sea turtle species in the Eastern Pacific. To save leatherback turtles from extinction, governments, non-governmental organizations, local communities, and research institutions must work together to extend, maintain, and coordinate high-priority, effective conservation efforts at local, national, and international levels throughout the Eastern Pacific Ocean region.