Harvesting & Shell Trade
Although most countries have banned the hunting of sea turtles and there is an international ban on the trade of sea turtles and their parts, poaching and legal hunting still pose a significant threat to all sea turtle species. Their meat and eggs are desired as exotic food and sea turtle by-products like oil is used in cosmetics, their skin for leather and the turtle shell is especially.
Folklore has it that sea turtle eggs are a natural aphrodisiac and by consuming them there is an expectation of greater potency and manliness. There is no evidence that substantiates this claim so there is no reason to consume sea turtle eggs. But, there are more important reasons to steer clear of them. There is a global advisory from the W.H.O. not to consume turtle meat and turtle eggs as they contain bacteria like salmonella, as well as parasites and high levels of heavy metals which can all cause serious harm.
The Hawksbill turtle, Antigua’s most recognized turtle, is being hunted to the brink of extinction for its vibrant and beautiful carapace also known as “the tortoiseshell”. Their shells are highly valued as they are used as trophies and to make jewelry and other ornaments which can easily be found in the markets of Latin America and Asia.
Commercial Fishing & By-Catch
Commercial fishing has a great impact on the oceans’ ecosystems. One of the casualties of commercial fishing are sea turtles when they are inadvertently captured in shrimp trawls, gill nets and long lines as bycatch. The bycatch, which consists of sea turtles, birds and other unlucky sea animals, is approximately 40% of the fisheries intake and are then discarded back to the ocean, dead or alive.
A new trend with shrimp trawlers is to install a turtle extruder device, which is basically an escape hatch, so that the turtles can find a way out. Unfortunately, this is still not regulated but there is hope that the trend will continue to grow.
One way to make a positive impact on the oceans is to choose seafood that is labeled sustainably sourced or where you know the fish are caught legally and in accordance with regulations.
Check out this handy list of sustainable seafood shopping for more information: https://wwf.panda.org/act/live_green/out_shopping/seafood_guides/?
Marine Debris & Pollution
Our garbage and waste will always find a way into the oceans. Our plastic waste; bottles, bags, wrappers, balloons, straws etc. get wash away from our rivers, beaches, streets, and storm drains and end up floating aimlessly in our oceans. All this garbage looks enticing to sea turtles as they mistake it for a food source. Ingesting garbage, especially plastics that do not degrade, wreak havoc on their digestive systems which will ultimately have a fatal outcome.
Lost or discarded fishing lines, nets, ropes, and sacs, known as Ghost Gear, become a trap for many sea animals especially sea turtles. The turtles will think of this ghost gear as a place to find shelter or food to which they will become entangled. The netting takes hold and squeezes the turtle’s flippers, neck, and/or body which will eventually lead to a slow and painful death.
Immediate pollution threats like oils spills and everyday runoffs of chemicals from industry and farming (pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers) play a role in marine life’s overall general health. These pollutants which build up over time in the body will eventually weaken the sea turtle’s immune system and will also have an effect on the turtles mating abilities, nesting habits leading to smaller clutches and eggs size and disoriented hatchlings.
Coastal Development &
Our coastlines are shrinking as human activity along them continues to build. Increased numbers of hotels, restaurants, beachfront housing, marinas and habours are all encroaching on the beaches. The sea floor dredging and sea walls needed for these structures work against the natural path of the ocean’s movements and are causing the beaches to erode and shrink. This creates competition for the sea turtles' nesting grounds.
Mother turtles prefer a nice quiet and dark beach to nest in privacy. All the traffic, lights, and sounds from human activities can ward off the sea turtles from even emerging onto the beaches to nest. When they do climb the beaches to nest there are many obstacles that present themselves. The sea turtle will have to navigate depressions or mounds in the sand created from beach activities, beach equipment and structures like tables, chairs, umbrellas, cabanas and retaining walls can obstruct their path an d confuse them. They may then give up and return to the water to try again another night or even continue on and become disoriented leading them to an unsuitable nesting area or worse by becoming trapped or venturing onto the roads.
Sea turtles navigate by the light of the moon to find their way back home to the ocean. Beach front lighting is disorienting to both adults and hatchlings, driving them in the wrong direction, heading away from the sea into almost certain doom. Light reduction and using “turtle friendly lights” like infrared LED / red lights will increase their chances of making in back to the safety of the ocean.
There is no denying the impact that global warming is having on our beautiful planet. Sea turtles need both land and sea to survive. The warming temperatures have various implications on sea turtles that are all intertwined.
The polar ice caps are melting and in turn raising the levels of our oceans. The rising oceans encroach on the beaches leaving a less optimal real estate for the sea turtles to nest. The warming seas are destroying our coral reefs that give protection and nourishment to the sea turtles. Seasonal storms are becoming stronger and as these storms usually come along during peak nesting season, the storm surges are devastating the beach areas with the fragile nests in it. The hotter temperatures have a significant influence on the gender ratios of the clutches. The warmer temperatures on the beach give the higher likelihood more females will hatch, as outside temperatures are a key factor in deciding sea turtle gender. This in turn will have a negative effect on future mating and the ability to reproduce.
There are many threats to the survival of our beloved sea turtles but do not fear there is much we can do together to help them survive. Greater awareness and will lead to greater conservation efforts. See here what you can do to make a change.