Encountering sea turtles in the wild is an experience unlike any other and something I’ve been blessed with a few times in my life. From witnessing the heroic efforts of female loggerhead turtles hoisting their gargantuan weight up the vast white sandy beaches of the Cape Verde islands with Project Biodiversity, to spending a couple of hours snorkelling alongside a charismatic green turtle amongst corals in the Maldives, every turtle encounter is magical.
This majesty soon quickly turns into tragedy when recalling the threats they face in our global ocean. Like many magnificent creatures residing in our seas turtles are really up against it right now.
All seven species of turtle are listed as ‘endangered’ by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna); six of the seven species of sea turtles are classified as ‘threatened with extinction’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Nature Resources).
World Turtle Day is celebrated every year on the 23rd May with the aim of spreading awareness on the threats facing both turtles and tortoises worldwide and the role we can each play in safeguarding their populations for the future. So in the spirit of the occasion, albeit belated, let’s delve into the threats facing our turtle friends and how you can help their survival.
What are the threats to sea turtles worldwide?
Here’s a quick round-up of the biggest threats facing sea turtles across the world…
- Bycatch – the unintentional entanglement in fishing gear as a non-target species
- Marine debris (ingestion of plastic pollution & entanglement in ghost fishing gear)
- Climate change – rising temperatures can create gender imbalances within hatchlings
- Artificial lights – light pollution along the coast can disorientate nesting turtles
- Coastal development – human encroachment on nesting beaches can force females to use other beaches and create obstacles for nesting turtles. Increased human activity is often accompanied by higher levels of pollution and disturbance as well.
- Poaching – sea turtles are hunted for their eggs, meat, skin and shells in countries such as Cape Verde.
- Illegal sea turtle shell trade – particularly of the hawksbill turtle shell
What can you do to help sea turtles?
- Reduce your consumption of single-use plastics and dispose of the plastic you do use properly. This is one of the single biggest actions you can make that will help sea turtles as they commonly ingest plastic, mistaking it for food. Every time you visit a beach do a quick beach clean and pick up ANY litter that you find – posting on social media with the hashtag #2minutebeachclean will help increase awareness of this movement and also how much can be collected in that time!
- Limit your seafood consumption and transition to more sustainably caught fish. Now this one is a lot trickier than it may first appear, with some questioning the credibility of sustainably certified products by organisations like the Marine Stewardship Council. However, always check the fishing method on the label – caught in a longline, gillnet or trawl? Probably best to avoid that one. Caught using a pole-and-line? Much better. Farmed? Not perfect, but at least only target species are being fished.
- Research your hotel before going on holiday. Heading to a swanky hotel in a far-flung destination this year? Chances are if you’re traveling to the coast there may be mother turtles preparing to lay their eggs on a beach nearby. After visiting Cape Verde back in 2017 I learnt that some hotels have switched to ‘turtle friendly lighting’ with the aim of reducing the threat from artificial lighting. Most hotels that have installed this are quite proud of it, so tend to have published it online – still can’t find anything? Write to the hotel and ask. If they don’t have it installed but are situated by a turtle nesting beach, ask them why the hell not?!
- Support non-governmental organisations and spread awareness both on- and offline. I say this all the time, but even RTing a story on turtle conservation can play an important role in spreading the message on the threats these sea turtles face. Below I’ve given a shortlist of some non-governmental organisations that are doing fantastic work for sea turtle conservation and need your support – please comment with any other suggestions you may have
Want to learn more?
For more information I recommend checking out the following organisations:
- Project Biodiversity
- Olive Ridley Project
- Sea Turtle Conservancy
- Sea Turtle Foundation
- Sea Turtle
- The Leatherback Trust
- Protect Maldives Seagrass (via the Blue Marine Foundation) and Project Seagrass, because sea turtles need a home too.