Earth is home to some pretty amazing species; many, like the Great White, are notorious thanks to their lead roles in movies and documentaries, whilst others have yet to even be discovered. Everyday, we gain more knowledge about certain species which, just years ago, many hadn’t even heard of. But perhaps a few of the Earth’s most mysterious and fascinating species, are sea turtles: creatures which have yet to be fully understood in all of their languid glory.
Our earth plays host to seven different species of sea turtle; six of those seven species are native to US waters, the remainder being found in the Western Indo-Pacific. Sea turtles commonly spend most of their lives at sea, covering vast expanses of our world's waters, gaining ground only to nest and approaching shore during times of feeding, or rest. But the breadth of knowledge scientists and researchers possess about these creatures is limited; counting sea turtle numbers is difficult, considering they rarely come to land and some dive for food to depths of 900 metres or more. They are elusive reptiles that, every year, travel thousands of miles back to their natal beaches to give birth to offspring in what is considered one of the planet’s most amazing wildlife migrations. How, exactly, these turtles are able to find their way back to such destinations is unknown.
What is known is that all six US-native sea turtle species are listed as Endangered on both the IUCN Red List and the Endangered Species Act; human impacts on their environment means sea turtles are slowly but surely disappearing from our waters.
Enter conservation. Several organizations and researchers around the globe have united to actively campaign for, and initiate, sea turtle conservation strategies; not only to minimize human impact, but to keep the several endangered species from going extinct. There are many threats facing these creatures, much of which are man made: commercial fishing (which entails longline & trawl fishing, resulting in hundreds of turtles being caught in nets, drowning or dying of starvation); harvesting of eggs (many in Central America and Asia consume sea turtle eggs); marine debris, oil spills, marine pollution and human invasion, just to name a few.
Recently, the world saw the devastating and cruel consequences human impaction can have on sea turtle populations when tourists and day-trippers swarmed a beach in Mexico City, taking selfies and playing with turtles trying desperately to nest on the sandy beaches. Many turtles were unable to lay their eggs due to the immense crowd, resulting in several returning to the ocean without laying their eggs. What does this say for the future of their species when sea turtles cannot even breed properly due to irresponsible human behavior?
There do however exist conservation efforts which seek to protect these creatures in a variety of ways. Such efforts range from satellite tracking — scientists and researches literally track every movement of turtle groupings to discover which areas they travel to and which need to be protected — to abolishing the illegal over-harvesting and trade of both live and dead turtles, in addition to protecting marine habitat. Some conservation groups work directly on the ground, moving turtles to safer areas in which they can lay their eggs, patrolling beaches to keep people from taking unhatched eggs, or fencing off areas to protect turtles as new offspring struggle to make their way to the ocean after hatching. Oddly enough, tourists can easily get involved in sea turtle conservation simply by being cognizant of the creatures during vacations or travel. For all intents and purposes, it should not be so difficult for us to respect these creatures and give them a fighting chance.
Human impact on species like sea turtles is not a new trend. We have for years been destroying populations of endangered and non-endangered species through activities such as logging, commercial fishing, land fragmentation, pollution…the list goes on. But in a world where so much focus and attention is continuously being placed on wildlife conservation, it appears a more dramatic shift is needed in order to wake the world up to the realities of species extinction. Losing species like sea turtles would not only be a grave loss for Discovery Channel documentaries, and oceanic researhc, but also for the world environment. We need species like these turtles, as every living creature plays an integral part in a much larger ecosystem to which we all belong. Without these creatures, we lose more than just the majesty of the open seas.