I love animals, all kinds of animals. Dogs, cats, horses (Original. I know) are my favorite tame animals, but eagle and turtles (especially tortoises) are my favorite wild animals. Eagles are just so majestic and respectable, but turtles…they’re just so freaking adorable. And to be perfectly honest, my love for them was sprouted when I watched Finding Nemo. I had turtles named after the ones in the movie and everything. It didn’t know sea turtles were endangered until I went to the aquarium and saw a video. It said only a few of the hundred or so eggs that hatch will survive until adulthood. I must also confess that it took me longer to narrow down the pictures for these posts then it did to actually find and narrow down the information. Anyways, as cute as they are for some, such as myself, that is reasoning enough, but for others that logic won’t go very far so I did my research. Again, I will be diving this topic up until three different posts.
Not only are turtles cute, but they are important to keep around. Sea turtles have been around for over 100 million years, but now out the seven species of turtles, only zero are not on some level endangered. Not unlike bees, the disappearance of turtles should be a huge warning sign with blinking neon lights and here is a few reasons why.
1. Sea turtles, especially green sea turtles, are one of the very few animals that eat sea grass. Like normal lawn grass, sea grass needs to be constantly cut short to be healthy and help it grow across the sea floor rather than blades that are just getting taller. Sea turtles and manatees act as grazing animals that cut the grass short and help maintain the health of the sea grass beds. Over the past decades, there has been a decline in sea grass beds. This decline may be linked to the lower numbers of sea turtles.
Sea grass beds are important because they provide breeding and developmental grounds for many species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans and many other fish that are lower levels of the food chain. Without those lower levels then many of marine animals of the upper levels would be lost, therefore we as humans would suffer because we wouldn’t have anything to eat. Once again, it’s the domino effect. All parts of an ecosystem are important, if you lose one, the rest will eventually follow.
2. Sand does not hold nutrients which results in a lack of vegetation on the beach and dune systems. Sea turtles use beaches and the lower dunes to nest and lay their eggs. Sea turtles lay around 100 eggs in a nest and lay between 3 and 7 nests during the summer nesting season. Along a 20 mile stretch of beach on the east coast of Florida sea turtles lay over 150,000 lbs of eggs in the sand. Not every nest will hatch, not every will hatch, and not all of the hatchlings will make it out of the nest. All the unhatched nests, eggs and trapped hatchlings are very good sources of nutrients for the dune vegetation, even the left over egg shells from hatched eggs provide some nutrients.
Dune vegetation is able to grow and become stronger with the presence of nutrients from turtle eggs. The healthier and stronger the dune vegetation is, the stronger the ecosystem around that area is. Stronger vegetation and root systems help to hold the sand in the dunes and help protect the beach from erosion. As the number of turtles declines, fewer eggs are laid in the beaches, providing less nutrients. If sea turtles went extinct, dune vegetation would lose a major source of nutrients and would not be as healthy and would not be strong enough to maintain the dunes, resulting in increased erosion. Once again, all parts of an ecosystem are important, if you lose one, the rest will eventually follow.
Sea turtles are part of two ecosystems, the beach/dune system and the marine system. If sea turtles went extinct, both the marine and beach/dune ecosystems would be negatively affected. Humans utilize the marine ecosystem as a natural resource for food and we also utilize the beach/dune system for a wide variety of activities, a negative impact to these ecosystems would negatively affect humans.
Sea turtles fall into two main subgroups: Dermochelyidae which is only the Leatherback and the family Cheloniidae, which is comprised of the remaining six sea turtles species: Green, Hawksbill, Pacific Ridley, Atlantic Ridley, Loggerhead and the Flatbacks.
Green turtles were added to the endangered species list in 1979. Green Turtles are still being killed in large numbers in Indonesia, where an estimated 20,000 are slaughtered each year for meat, shell and eggs. Stuffed turtles with polished shells are sold openly in tourist shops throughout Indonesia. The Governor of Bali set a quota of 5,000 per year for use in Hindu festivals on the island; even the latter quota will result in the extinction of these turtles in these islands within a few years.
Hawksbill received protection of the U.S. around 1969. Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) have been slaughtered to near-extinction worldwide, mainly for their beautiful shells which are made into tortoiseshell jewelry and other items. Like the Green Turtle, the Hawksbill is found in all tropical oceans but is most commonly seen in coral reefs and along coastlines in mangroves and marshes. This 3-foot-long turtle has about 10 to 12 pounds of tortoiseshell that is removed from each turtle. Cutting off the U.S. market did not stop slaughter of these turtles, however. Tortoiseshell from Hawksbill Turtles is made into eyeglass frames that sell for up to $4,000 in Tokyo luxury stores. The shell is also fashioned into bracelets, earrings and other trinkets. The meat and eggs are consumed, and hatchlings–as well as adults–are killed and sold as stuffed curios. International trade in Hawksbills totaled more than 250,000 animals in 1976 and 1977, and shells from 500,000 of these turtles were traded in 1978, primarily exported from Asian and Central American countries to Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan. By 1994, when Japan withdrew its CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) reservation on Hawksbill Turtles, it had imported 400,000 of these endangered animals in the previous 14 years).
The Olive or Pacific Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) was added to the Endangered Species list in 1979 as a result of one man, Antonio Suarez, and his exploitation of them. These turtles are only found only in the Pacific region, with the majority of nests located along the coasts of Mexico and Central America. They have been slaughtered mercilessly on their nesting beaches, where they gather by the thousands. In 1978, one of Suarez’ plants processed 50,000 Olive Ridleys, 90 percent of which were females; this was 16,000 more than the quota permitted. Mexican government quotas were far higher than the turtle populations could sustain, and catches fell precipitously in 1979 and 1980. Prior to this, skins, shells and meat from hundreds of thousands of Mexican Olive Ridleys had been imported into the United States, the major consumer of these animals.
In 1980, some 106,000 pounds of Olive Ridley meat were seized as they were being smuggled in from Mexico to various dealers in the United States; the meat came from an estimated 8,800 turtles. Turtle slaughterhouses were still operating in Mexico in 1990, and Suarez owned three processing plants. Suarez was charged, but these turtles are still being slaughtered for markets in other parts of the world.
Rarest of all the sea turtles, the Kemp’s or Atlantic Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) was once widely distributed throughout the Caribbean region. By the 1940s, they had been concentrated it had become restricted to one nesting beach in northeastern Mexico on the Gulf of Mexico. In 1940 nesting groups, arribadas, consisted of 40,000 turtles. Over the next few years, during the nesting periods thousands were slaughtered. The arribadas were reduced to only 500 nesting female turtles by 1978. Of course, it did not stop. Ruthless and unyielding we are to nature’s cries. In 1995, nests totaled 1,430, showing a gradual recovery of the species as a result of intensive protection of nesting females and their eggs by the combined work of Mexican and U.S. patrols.
Between 1978 and 1988, more than 22,000 eggs were taken from the Mexican nesting beach to Padre Island off the south Texas coast, where they were allowed to hatch and were then kept in captivity for one year prior to releasing them into the wild. For many years, this project was thought a failure, but to the surprise of all, two female Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles that had been released from Padre Island, one in 1983 and the other in 1986, returned to nest in 1996. The only effective way of tagging young sea turtles is a skin graft of a special light-colored spot placed on the shell, and these turtles’ grafts indicated the year each was released. One female was 11 years old, and the other 14. This highly unusual project is the first known success story for sea turtle egg transplants. These turtles are also dying in large numbers in the nets of shrimp fishermen, and hundreds more die when they become disoriented while migrating in the fall, ending up in cold New England waters.
Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) also drown in shrimp nets and suffer from a loss of nesting habitat. The Loggerhead is a large turtle, up to 7 feet long, second in size only to the massive Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea). Museum specimens of Loggerheads taken in past centuries weighed an estimated 1,188 pounds; today, they average only about 330 pounds. Development of their nesting beaches and losses from drowning in shrimp nets and will probably result in the extinction of North American Atlantic populations, which nest from Florida to the Carolinas. Within the past five years, Loggerheads of the Florida region have been found suffering from a mysterious disease which causes tumors on the head and neck, and lethargy. Most do not survive. A sea turtle hospital in the Florida Keys has treated some of these. In March 2001, the hospital found themselves treating more than 35 Loggerheads, only one of which responded to treatment. It is assumed that for every sick turtle found, hundreds more die at sea. The malady may be a virus caused by pollution, a toxin affecting their food supply of crustaceans and other invertebrates, or another cause as yet unknown.
The Flatback Turtles (Natator depressus) of the Australian region may be more secure than other species but still face losses from accidental drowning and some illegal hunting. This small sea turtle, only about 39 inches in length, is found mainly in shallow, coastal waters. They are not hunted for their meat, which is considered unpalatable, but their eggs are, which could eliminate the species from many nesting beaches.
Largest of all living turtles, Leatherbacks can reach 8 feet in length and weigh up to 1,900 pounds. They are highly endangered, as a result of over harvesting of their eggs, illegal slaughter and drowning in fishing nets. Of all sea turtles, the Leatherback is the most likely to be seen in temperate areas, even cold waters off Iceland, Labrador and Norway in the north, and Chile and the Cape of Good Hope in the south. It also ranges through tropical oceans, occasionally entering shallow bays and estuaries. It nests on tropical beaches. The body temperature of these turtles has been measured at 18o C. above the sea water temperature, an indication that their large body size retains heat from muscular activity, and their circulatory system in fore and hind limbs allows homoeothermic (Ernst and Barbour 1989). Thus, these turtles can hardly be called “cold-blooded.”
Until recently, western Mexico had enormous breeding colonies of Leatherbacks. Unfortunately, due to the killing and egg-taking, at a major nesting beach called Mexiquillo they declined from 6,500 in 1984 to fewer than 500 in 1995 to 1996, according to the Turtle Newsletter. In spite of having an enormous range worldwide, this species also seems destined to become extinct in the near future.