We get asked a lot, ‘Are Sea Turtles Endangered?’
Sadly, yes, sea turtles and endangered. For over 100 million years sea turtles have swum the seas and nested on sandy beaches in tropical and sub-tropical climates. They have lived through ice ages, and are one of the last living remnants of the dinosaur age. They have since spread to nearly every corner of the globe, swimming in every ocean, and have evolved into 7 distinct species over time.
These member species, include:
- Green Sea Turtle
- Olive Ridley
- Kemp’s Ridley
6 of these 7 sea turtle species are classed as either critically endangered, endangered, or threatened, due to the harsh and often commercial and/or industrial impacts of humankind. Sea turtles face touch odds as it is, with long migration patterns, longer gestation periods, and a naturally low probability of reaching sexual maturation. If interested, you can additional sea turtle facts, here.
Adding any unnatural impacts, such as hunting, entanglement or by-catch in fishing nets, commercial use for their shells/meat, marine debris such as plastics, and now climate change has pushed sea turtle populations to the brink.
Natural occurrences that impact Sea Turtle endangerment:
Long Migration: Some turtles cross entire oceans to feed and breed, while others travel from the warm waters of South America to the frigid seas of Northern Canada and Alaska.
Long Gestation: It can take a female sea turtle up to 2 years to lay a fertilized egg, while once in the nest the egg then takes approximately 60 days to hatch.
Low Probability of Survival: After laying her eggs in the sandy nesting beaches, the female sea turtle returns to the sea, leaving her eggs vulnerable to natural predators, such as birds, lizards, coyotes, and even fire ants. In fact, many predators will lie in wait for her to return to the sea before promptly digging up the nests.
For those hatchlings that do make it out to sea, their journey to adulthood is just as daunting, as they now become prey for larger fish in open waters. Sea turtle hatchlings are prey to grouper, barracuda, dolphins and sharks.
As a reference to illustrating their odds of survival, a US Fish & Wildlife report, stages that a sea turtle egg has a 1:1000 chance of developing into adulthood.
Unnatural occurrences that impact sea turtle endangerment:
Fishing: As ocean dwellers that come up for air, sea turtles are often victim to commercial fishing gear and shrimp trawling nets. Their corpses are often found entangled and drowned.
Hunting/Gathering: In some countries, sea turtle eggs are a local delicacy, often seen as an aphrodisiac to drink with orange juice, in other areas of the world their shell, in particular, the shell of the Hawksbill turtle, is used to make tourist crafts, such as wind chimes and bowls.
Habitat loss: With beachfront property, the dream of every hotel and resort developer, supported by the related rise in tourist visits, beach habitat is increasingly shrinking. Without proper nesting areas, the lifecycle breaks and local populations are decimated.
Climate change: Science has proved that the gender of a sea turtle is determined within the egg but after nesting. Respectively and uniquely, reports now point to temperature as the primary factor in determining whether or not the sea turtle is male, or female. As beaches and oceans warm we are seeing a sharp rise in the number of females are being born and a sharp decrease in males. This is now seen as unbalanced and threatening.
What are people doing to help with sea turtle endangerment?
Conservation Tours: Using a sun destination holiday as a vehicle to support programs that rescue, rehabilitate, and promote the values of sea turtle conservation.
Awareness: Leaving coastal areas undisturbed or mitigating the development and ambient impacts of development to encourage nesting.
Policy: Lobbying local governments to make decisions that include the wellbeing of sea turtles. Whether that be demanding less-invasive development terms, creating protected park areas, or banning the commercial activity around sea turtles or sea turtle products.
Organizations that are doing good things on behalf of sea turtles:
SEETurtles – Based in the United States, they facilitate sea turtle conservation tours in Central America and the Caribbean and advocating for their survival.
GVI – Facilitating international sea turtle conservation tours and training the next wave of conservation officers.
Oyster Worldwide – A UK-based travel company that offers short-term Gap-year programs designed for 20-30-year-old travelers.
What you can do:
- Learn more about the plight of sea turtles and choose to make their story your school project.
- When someone asks ‘are sea turtles endangered?’ be sure to tell them the whole story and advocate on their behalf.
- Do not support commercial interests that market sea turtle products.
- Leave no trace on any coastal area that is home to nesting activity.
- Join a conservation tour on your next trip to the beach, especially if you are looking at Costa Rica
- Donate a small amount of money to Billon Baby Turtles, a registered 501c3 Non-Profit that puts 90% of all donations to conservation efforts.
- Add your name to the KEEPitWILD Pledge, a commitment to best-practices around wildlife interactions.