They have swum the seas since dinosaurs roamed the land. However, in recent history, rapidly increasing human populations have resulted in new and acute pressures, making sea turtle survival ever more difficult. For green sea turtles, female can lay eggs about 60-150 eggs. Without the hunting by human, naturally only about 11 hatchlings that swim back to sea to grow up. Some researchers reports that the percentage of hatching eggs is naturally only about 50% when it begins to hatch and return to the sea for swimming (not in added in the existence of several other predators).
Threats in the Marine Environment
Turtles can become entangled in gillnets, pound nets, and the lines associated with longline and trap/pot fishing gear. Turtles entangled in these types of fishing gear may drown and often suffer serious injuries to their flippers from constriction by the lines or ropes. In addition to entangling turtles, longline gear can also hook turtles in the jaw, esophagus, or flippers. Trawls that are not outfitted with turtle excluder devices (TEDs) do not allow turtles to escape, which may result in mortality through drowning. Fishing dredges, extremely heavy metal frames dragged along the ocean floor, can crush and entrap turtles, causing death and serious injury. In the Pacific, coastal gillnet and other fisheries conducted from a multitude of smaller vessels are of increasing concern. These fisheries, called artisanal fisheries, can collectively have a very great impact on local turtle populations, especially leatherbacks and loggerheads.
Marine Debris is a continuing problem for marine turtles. Marine turtles living in the pelagic (open ocean) environment commonly ingest or become entangled in marine debris (e.g., tar balls, plastic bags, plastic pellets, balloons, and ghost fishing gear) as they feed along oceanographic fronts, where debris and their natural food items converge. This is especially problematic for turtles that spend all or significant portions of their life cycle in the pelagic environment (e.g., leatherbacks, juvenile loggerheads, and juvenile green turtles).
Environmental contamination from coastal runoff, marina and dock construction, dredging, aquaculture, oil and gas exploration and extraction, increased under water noise and boat traffic can degrade marine habitats used by marine turtles. The development of marinas and docks in inshore waters can negatively impact nearshore habitats. Fueling facilities at marinas can sometimes discharge oil, gas, and sewage into sensitive estuarine and coastal habitats. An increase in the number of docks built may also increase boat and vessel traffic. Turtles swimming or feeding at or just beneath the surface of the water are particularly vulnerable to boat and vessel strikes, which can result in serious propeller injuries and death.
Being Sold as jewelry, wall hangings, etc result in many unnecessary deaths. Around the world, sea turtles are harvested both for sustenance and for profit. As conservation organizations help communities find alternative food-sources to sea turtles, all of us can help eradicate the consumer market for sea turtle products. When it comes to fashion, remember that no sea turtle products are safe to buy, even if marketed as antiques. Every tortoiseshell or turtle leather trinket bought, contributes to the continued poaching of sea turtles.
Disease, specifically fibropapillomatosis (FP), is a major threat to green turtles in some areas of the world. FP is characterized by tumorous growths, which can range in size from very small to extremely large, and are found both internally and externally. Large tumors can interfere with feeding and essential behaviors, and tumors on the eyes can cause permanent blindness. FP was first described in green turtles in the Florida Keys in the 1930s. Since then it has been recorded in many green turtle populations around the world. In addition, scientists have documented FP in populations of loggerhead, olive ridley, and flatback turtles. The effects of FP at the population level are not well understood.
Loss or degradation of nesting habitat resulting from erosion control through beach nourishment and armoring, beachfront development, artificial lighting, and non-native vegetation is a serious threat affecting nesting females and hatchlings. Although beach nourishment, or placing sand on beaches, may provide more sand, the quality of that sand, and hence the nesting beach, may be less suitable than pre-existing natural beaches. Sub-optimal nesting habitat may cause decreased nesting success, place an increased energy burden on nesting females, result in abnormal nest construction, and reduce the survivorship of eggs and hatchlings.
Beach armoring (e.g., bulkheads, seawalls, soil retaining walls, rock revetments, sandbags, and geotextile tubes) can impede a turtle’s access to upper regions of the beach/dune system, thereby limiting the amount of available nesting habitat. Impacts also can occur if structures are installed during the nesting season. For example, unmarked nests can be crushed or uncovered by heavy equipment, nesting turtles and hatchlings can get caught in construction debris or excavations, and hatchlings can get trapped in holes or crevices of exposed riprap and geotextile tubes. In many areas of the world, sand mining (removal of beach sand for upland construction) seriously degrades and destroys nesting habitat.
Artificial lighting on or near the beach adversely affects both nesting and hatchling sea turtles. Specifically, artificial lighting may deter adult female turtles from emerging from the ocean to nest and can disorient or misorient emerging hatchlings away from the ocean. Hatchlings have a tendency to orient toward the brightest direction, which on natural, undeveloped beaches is commonly toward the broad open horizon of the sea. However, on developed beaches, the brightest direction is often away from the ocean and toward lighted structures. Hatchlings unable to find the ocean, or delayed in reaching it, are likely to incur high mortality from dehydration, exhaustion, or predation. Hatchlings lured into lighted parking lots or toward streetlights can get crushed by passing vehicles.
Non-native vegetation has invaded many coastal areas and often outcompetes native species. Non-native vegetation is usually less-stabilizing and can lead to increased erosion and degradation of suitable nesting habitat. Exotic vegetation may also form impenetrable root mats that can prevent proper nest cavity excavation, invade and desiccate eggs, or trap hatchlings.
Sea level rise from the melting of polar ice is already contributing to the loss of beach and sea turtle nesting habitat. Weather extremes, also linked to climate change, mean more frequent and severe storms which alter nesting beaches, cause beach erosion, and inundate, or flood sea turtle nests. Hotter sand from increasing temperatures results in decreased hatching rates or complete nest failure. Increased sand temperatures also affect hatchlings by altering natural sex ratios, with hotter temperatures producing more female hatchlings.
Sea turtles use ocean currents to travel and find prey. Warming ocean temperatures influence migratory species by altering currents and impacting the distribution and abundance of prey species. This can result in southerly species being found in more northerly regions, well outside of their normal range. Warmer water temperatures also affect coral reefs through coral bleaching which are vital to the survival of species like the hawksbill.
Oil from spills far offshore concentrates along convergence zones (where currents meet) which is an important area for post-hatchling and young turtle development. Oil from spills offshore also washes up on beaches where it degrades nesting habitat, and can impact nests, nesting females, and hatchlings making their way to the water.
Sea turtles are also affected by the ingestion of food contaminated by oil, or by ingesting tar balls. Tar balls are formed when crude oil floating in the water begins to degrade. Researchers have found that a large percentage of dead post-hatchlings whose stomach contents have been examined, have ingested tar balls. Tar balls may be fed upon by sea turtles at all stages of life. When turtles come into direct contact with oil it also affects their eyes and mucus membranes, and can damage their airways and lungs.