4 Ways You Can Help Save Sea Turtles

What is it about sea turtles that makes them so endearing? It is their size? Their age? Their gracefulness in the water? All of these characteristics add to our fascination with these gentle sea creatures, but, additionally, I believe it’s that they’re critical to the health of the world’s oceans.

Sea turtles help maintain productive coral reef ecosystems and transport essential nutrients from the oceans to beaches and coastal dunes. Their eggs provide key nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that soak into beach dune ecosystems, fueling plant growth that helps prevent shoreline erosion and provides food for plant-eating shore animals.

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Leatherback sea turtles devour jellyfish, which is important because jellyfish hunt fish eggs and larvae, impeding the recovery of fish stocks. Meanwhile, loggerheads feast on hard-shelled critters like crustaceans. In breaking their shells, the turtles increase the rate at which the shells disintegrate, increasing the rate of nutrient recycling in the ocean ecosystems.

Sea turtles also provide habitat to a variety of marine animals. The barnacles and algae that live on sea turtles’s shells provide meals for small fish and shrimp.

You get the picture. Sea turtles are the good guys, stewards of Mother Earth for more than 200 million years, pre-dating even the dinosaurs. But now, sea turtles are fighting to survive. Pollution and overconsumption are causing them to decline at a rate never seen before, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, the world’s oldest sea turtle research and conservation group.

Sea turtle swims up to camera with coral reefs and fish in the background

Endangered hawksbill sea turtle.

Sea Turtle Conservation Threats: Poaching, Pollution, Plastic & More

There are seven species of sea turtles: hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, olive ridley, Kemp’s ridley, green sea turtle and Australian flatback. The threats to each are serious. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, it is estimated that only one in 1,000 to 10,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood. N

Nature presents its own challenges for sea turtles, but when it comes to extinction, the blame falls squarely on human shoulders. For one thing, during the nesting season, turtle hunters take eggs and adults for their meat, oil, cartilage, skin and shells. The hawksbill’s extraordinary shell is especially sought after to create jewelry, so much so that they are critically endangered. Their population is believed to have shrunk by 90% in the last century.

Sea turtle entangled in fishing gear ghost net ocean pollution

Hawksbill sea turtle caught in “ghost gear,” or discarded fishing nets.

Then there’s the unintended harm. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, hundreds of thousands of adult and immature turtles are accidentally captured in fisheries. The numbers are mindboggling: Some 150,000 turtles are killed in shrimp trawls, and more than 200,000 loggerheads and 50,000 leatherbacks are captured, injured or killed by longlines each year.

Plastic pollution—which kills 100 million marine animals each year—has an outsized impact on sea turtles, which unwittingly and routinely swallow pieces thinking they are food.

Sea turtle ingesting plastic ocean pollution thinking it is food like jellyfish

Light pollution is also detrimental to turtles’ birthing process, as they need dark, quiet beaches to properly do their nesting. Artificial lighting on the beach not only deters turtles from hunkering down to nest, but the light can confuse hatchlings, who mistakenly make their way inland, where they die from dehydration or end up in the streets and get run over.

And though structures built to protect coastal properties from erosion—while good for property owners—can be disruptive for sea turtles, as they disturb and reduce nesting habitats, forcing turtles to choose areas that may not be ideal for nesting.

These are just some of the threats; the list is long. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, one of the most serious threats to sea turtles is human activity on their nesting beach at night. That time is critical for females. If there is too much noise (and light), they may stop nesting and return to the ocean. Driving on the beach at night can also disturb nesting females and accidentally kill hatchlings making their way to the ocean. Even the tire grooves left by vehicles are problematic, as they increase the time it takes a hatchling to reach the ocean, upping the odds a predator will snatch them up for supper.

Sea turtle nesting site sign do not enter caution nesting sea turtles on beach sea turtle conservation

How You Can Help Save Sea Turtles

1. Learn and Educate

The first step in helping protect something is learning more about it! The Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Sea Turtle Tracking program allows you to view maps detailing the migratory movements of endangered sea turtles as they are tracked via satellite. Teachers can get students involved by using the nonprofit’s free, downloadable Educator’s Guide, which is chock full of information about sea turtles and includes classroom activities for a variety of ages and grade levels.

Green sea turtle with satellite tracking device attached to its shell

2. Fund

It’s a hard truth that conservation costs. You can make a donation to the Sea Turtle Conservancy and adopt either a satellite-tagged turtle or one of the many green turtles tagged after nesting at Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

3. Be More Mindful

Small changes can add up! Reduce the amount of plastic you purchase and discard, pick up litter when you’re on or near the water, use biodegradable lawn and garden products, always properly dispose of toxic chemicals, and avoid disturbing tracks left by sea turtles on the beach. Researchers use these tracks to identify the type of turtle that nested and to locate and mark their nests.

Sea turtle nesting site hatchery in Costa Rica

Sea turtle nest hatchery in Costa Rica.

4. Choose Conservation Travel

The Sea Turtle Conservancy partners with other organizations to broaden its reach. For example, Nat Hab’s Natural Jewels of Costa Rica trip provides a complimentary opportunity while in Tortuguero to “adopt” an endangered sea turtle through the Sea Turtle Conservancy. The adoption process includes material about the conservation program, an adoption form, and a free one-year membership to the conservancy. Membership allows participants to track the status of their turtle. Guests traveling from July through October may also be able to book an optional excursion to see sea turtles on the beach late at night. Your Expedition Leader can arrange this for you upon arrival if space is available.

Baby leatherback sea turtles emerge from their eggs.

Baby leatherback sea turtles emerge from their eggs.

Another example is the conservancy’s collaboration with the Four Seasons Resort in Nevis. For the past 15 years, they’ve run a joint program that helps researchers study the migration patterns of the endangered species that nest on Nevis’ beaches. This includes research and education that aids in the long-term protection and recovery of hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles on the island. The program tracks the turtles’ movement after they nest in Nevis.

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The Four Seasons’ Sea Turtle Conservation Weekend, which also includes the Nevis Turtle Group, has night walks, turtle tracking and release, informational presentations, a kids’ camp and more. I participated last summer and can say from first-hand experience that there’s something special about quietly combing the beach at night in the hopes of finding a female turtle nesting. When you stumble upon one, the excitement is electric!

Watching the hawksbill turtle we nicknamed “Brownie” nest was a magical moment. When she finished, researchers guided her to a temporary home where she spent the night before being released into the ocean early the next day. I found myself thinking about her overnight, wondering how she was doing. I made my way to the beach the next day and through the crowd that had gathered for the sendoff. The researcher lifted the door on the huge box and she came scrambling out, headed straight for the ocean. She moved quickly, and when she entered the water with a big splash, I smiled and clapped. I even saw some folks wiping away tears. It was beautiful.

Green sea turtle nesting on Tortuguero Beach, Costa Rica.

Green sea turtle nesting on Tortuguero Beach, Costa Rica.

You may encounter sea turtles in the wild on our Galapagos, Costa Rica, Borneo, Australia and other trips! Check out all of our coastal and marine adventures.

The post 4 Ways You Can Help Save Sea Turtles first appeared on Good Nature Travel Blog.

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