There seems to be a day for everything now, but I’m not complaining for this one…
Every animal on this planet is important in their own right, but there’s something about turtles that captures a lot of people’s hearts. They’re portrayed in literature as being slow but wise (think of the fable The Hare and the Tortoise) and they have become an icon among marine lovers and surfers as peaceful, relaxed animals (think of Crush in Finding Nemo).
Sea turtles have roamed the ocean for more than 100 million years, they were around before the dinosaurs, and still there’s so much that we humans don’t know about them. Personally, I think that’s rather an endearing quality.
So as today is World Sea Turtle Day, I decided that I should dedicate a post to the humble sea turtle and help draw attention to its plight so that they can remain on this planet for another 100 million years.
Because did you know that the much-loved turtle is listed as a vulnerable species by WWF? In fact, 6 of the 7 sea turtle species are considered critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List. The seventh is listed as data deficient.
(You would know they were endangered if you’d read my previous post here…)
The main risks to sea turtles are from poaching (in some places, turtles are slaughtered for their eggs, meat, skin and shells) habitat destruction and accidental capture in fishing gear – particularly prawn trawlers. Climate change has also impacted turtle nesting sites and many beaches where turtles once came onshore are now empty of such activity.
But to have remained on the planet for this long, turtles must have some impressive capabilities. And that’s true. Their sense of location is incredible and their ability to swim vast distances is nothing less than impressive.
While researching World Sea Turtle Day, I discovered some lesser known facts about them…
- They have a period of life known as their ‘lost years’
The time between when the first hatchlings emerge until they return to coastal shallow waters is incredibly difficult to study. They can spend years out at sea – up to 20 – and these remain a mystery to humans. Because of this, the first few years of a marine turtle’s life is often referred to as ‘the lost years’.
- Turtles are effectively wearing their bones on the outside
Their shells are made of over 50 bones fused together…
- Turtles don’t have teeth
Instead, their upper and lower jaws have sheaths made of keratin. They fit onto the skull like a pair of false teeth.
- Marine turtles can migrate incredibly long distances
According to WWF, the record is for a female leatherback that swam nearly 13,000 miles over 647 days from Indonesia to the west coast of America!
- Female turtles will nest on the same beach they hatched on
This amazing navigation comes from their sensitivity to the Earth’s magnetic fields.
And still, despite all this, sea turtles are in danger, largely thanks to humans (again).
Every time I learn more about the creatures in our seas, I’m left in awe of how they’ve adapted to their environments, or how they create complex and close knit social groups which look after each other.
But time and again I’m also shocked by how many of these creatures are endangered. It almost feels like too many now need our help…
But we can’t think like that. If every living thing on this planet is important, then there are always ways to help and things that can be done.
There are a number of sanctuaries and conservation initiatives around the world set up to help marine creatures including sea turtles. Even the tourism industry has cottoned on, and there are trips where you can join local volunteers to monitor nesting sea turtles, relocate lost eggs to the hatchery and release baby turtles into the ocean. I desperately want to do this but I also know that it’s important to research a genuinely eco-friendly company or research centre to do this with.
Failing that, and if you don’t want to leave the comfort of your own home, you could just support the amazing conservation work that other charities and foundations are doing. Or, you could share this blog and help spread awareness about the endangered status of the sea turtle in the hope that more people will take action.
For more information on Sea Turtles visit WWF.