It’s the Hard Knock Life For Me
Every year thousands of hatchling turtles emerge from their nests and make a break for the ocean. Sadly, only an estimated one in 1,000 to 10,000 will survive to adulthood.
The natural obstacles faced by sea turtles are staggering, but it is the increasing threats caused by humans that are driving them to extinction. Today, six of the seven species of sea listed as threatened or endangered.
Harvest for Consumption
In many coastal communities, especially in Central America and Asia, sea turtles have provided a source of food. During the nesting season, turtle hunters comb the beaches at night looking for nesting females. Often, they will wait until the female has deposited her eggs to kill her. Then, they take both the eggs and the meat.
Other parts of the turtle are used for products, including the oil, cartilage, skin and shell. Many countries forbid the taking of eggs, but enforcement is lax, poaching is rampant, and the eggs can often be found for sale in local markets.
Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles get caught up in the fishing industry every year, global estimates to the annual capture and mortality rate are staggering. Let's look at a small part of some of the problems that are caused…….
- 150,000 Sea Turtles are killed by trawlers annually
- 200,000 Loggerhead Sea Turtles are captured or killed by longlines
- 50,000 leatherback Sea Turtles are also captured or killed by longlines
The impact of gill nets is hard to quantify because they are set by uncounted numbers of fishermen, it is estimated the impact is similar to that of longline fishing.
It is estimated that more than 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. More than 80% of this plastic comes from land.
As a result, thousands of sea turtles accidentally swallow these plastics, mistaking them for food. Leatherbacks especially, cannot distinguish between floating jellyfish and plastic bags.
Most of the debris is recognizable: plastic bags, balloons, bottles, straws, plastic packaging, and food wrappers. Some plastics aren’t so easy to see, so small, in fact, that it is invisible to the naked eye. If sea turtles ingest these particles, they can become sick or even starve.
Sea turtle nesting beaches everywhere have been substantially altered by urbanization and development. These man-made structures threaten sea turtles nesting habitat by interrupting the nesting process through reduction of habitat and forcing the turtles to nest elsewhere.
Nesting turtles depend on dark, quiet beaches to reproduce successfully. They now have to compete with tourists, businesses and coastal residents to use the beach. These coastal developments often have artificial lighting on the beach that discourages female sea turtles from nesting.
Near-shore lighting can cause sea turtle hatchlings to become disoriented when they are born. This can cause them to wander inland where they often die of dehydration, predation, or even from being run over on busy coastal streets.
With melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels, beaches are starting to disappear. As the water level begins to rise, the size of nesting beaches decrease. Increasing temperatures will bring with them severe weather patterns which will damage and erode coastal habitats used by Sea Turtles.
The sex of sea turtles is affected by incubation temperature, lower temperatures produce males, higher temperatures female and a fluctuation between the two gives a mix of both sexes.
Higher temperatures can adversely affect sea turtle gender ratio. Increasing incubation temperatures could result in more female sea turtles, which reduces reproductive opportunities and decreases genetic diversity.