Sea turtles are some of the oldest species on earth, having existed for more than 100 million years. They are found in tropical and sub-tropical seas around the world. Marine reptiles, they breathe air and lay their eggs on sandy beaches. In fact, sea turtle mothers return to the same beach on which they were born to lay their eggs. Except for these nexting activities on land, sea turtles spend their entire lives at sea.
There are seven species of sea turtle. Three are endangered an two others are threatened. The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the smallest, weighing less than 100 pounds and the leatherback is the largest, weighing up to 1,500 pounds.
Every year, thousands of sea turtles are accidentally caught in nets and fishing lines – bycatch. Sea turtles entangled in nets or lines are unable to reach the surface to breathe and drown. In addition, plastic pollution threatens turtles, who mistake plastic for food. Once ingested, plastic blocks intestines and may cause death. Sea turtles are also suffering habitat loss, especially nesting grounds due to development.
Finally, sea turtles are uniquely affected by climate change. The gender of sea turtles is determined by how hot or cold the surrounding environment is while they are in their eggs. Warmer temperatures result in more female hatchlings, while colder temperatures will produce more male hatchlings. As ocean temperatures increase and get warmer, there is concern that reproduction rates will go down with fewer males.
Why Protect Sea Turtles? Sea turtles play a critical role in the ecosystem. They feed on seagrass and graze on coral reefs, increasing ocean vitality and productivity for other species, including lobster, shrimp and tuna. By feeding on jellyfish, sea turtles help control jellyfish populations. Sea turtles also make a substantial economic contribution through tourism.
What can we do? It is critical that we learn more about and help prevent plastic pollution. Switch to reusable bags and reduce plastic consumption. Help prevent ocean pollution by joining a beach cleanup and properly disposing of waste and recyclables.