Unfortunately, nearly all species of sea turtles are endangered. Sea turtles are hunted and killed for their meat, skin & shells and nests are poached for eggs. Alike many species around the world they are at risk from habitat destruction and other human activities such as fishing and pollution. However, there are some great organisations working hard to help protect sea turtles, including our project partners in Costa Rica and Malaysia.
World Turtle Day
World Turtle Days aims to bring attention, increase knowledge, and encourage respect for turtles and tortoises. It also educates people on what they can do to protect the natural habitats of sea turtles. Unfortunately, many people don’t realise sea turtles are essential for the marine ecosystem and that it's crucial to protect them. According to Oceana, "turtles play an important role by maintaining healthy seagrass beds and coral reef habitats for other marine creatures". If they were to become extinct it would have a significant impact on the ocean as a whole.
World Turtle Day is a day not only to celebrate turtles & tortoises; but also a day to educate people on how their actions impact the environment and wildlife. It encourages people to start making a change by adopting responsible behaviours; for instance using reusable shopping bags instead of plastic bags that regularly end up in the ocean and endanger the creatures that live there.
Threats to Sea Turtles
Unfortunately, there are many threats to marine turtles’ livelihoods, some of which occur naturally and others that are man-made. Human activity puts sea turtles in great danger and threatens their life expectancy. The most hazardous human activities include hunting, poaching, domestic waste, plastic & litter, climate change, nest destruction, and invasive fishing practices. Additionally, the protection and conservation laws that are in place to address such hazards are rarely respected or followed appropriately.
Global warming and climate change has severe impacts on marine turtle populations as they have temperature-dependent sex determination. This means that the temperature of the developing eggs influences the sex of turtle hatchlings. Therefore, an increase in global temperatures could change the proportion of females and males in the population; which in turn would affect the future breeding possibilities for the species.
The rising temperatures also lead to more algae blooms in shallow water, deeper coral beds as sea levels rise, and hotter sand for the turtles to travel across to lay eggs. These are all aspects of turtle life that turtles will have to adapt to over time in order to survive.
Poaching and Hunting
Adult turtles are hunted and killed for their meat and shells even though both are illegal products to consume. In addition, one of the biggest causes for the decline in the sea turtle population is due to hunting and poaching eggs from nests. While it is also illegal, turtle eggs are still considered a delicacy in some countries, and considered a 'way of life' or 'part of the culture'. In some areas of Costa Rica eggs can be sold for USD$1-$2, and considering a sea turtle lays around 100 eggs at a time, this becomes an easy temptation for many who live along the coasts in Costa Rica where turtles come to lay their nests.
Plastic and Litter
More than 1000 turtles die a year from ingesting plastic pollution alone. Some experts even think this number may be vastly underestimated. A plastic bag drifting through the ocean is easily mistaken for a delicious jellyfish. Even if the turtle does not die immediately from choking on the plastic bag, the bag can still cause a fatal block in the digestive system.
Addtionally, many turtles become entangled in discarded fishing lines, plastic kites or balloon strings, six-pack rings or other various types of litter. This causes a range of injuries, which in many cases, if not found and treated, can lead to death. The problem lays not only in the water, litter along coastlines can entangle or injure female turtles when they come ashore to lay their nests, as well as posing a threat of injury to new hatchlings as they make their way to the water.
Degradation and Changes to Nesting Sites
Sea turtles spend most of their life swimming through the ocean, rarely leaving the water, but they do come ashore to lay their eggs. Therefore, development along beach fronts and coastlines has a serious impact on nesting beaches and puts the future numbers of turtles in danger if they can not lay in peace. Female turtles usually return to the same beach where they were hatched to lay their own eggs. Although, with rapidly increasing development along coastlines, that beach may no longer be suitable for turtles. Obstacle on beaches from development (such as beach chairs or building materials) can injure females when the come ashore or even result in failed nesting attempts.
Unnatural lighting from resorts, restaurants or high rise buildings along the beachfront can cause hatchlings to become disoriented as they emerge from their nests and lead them in the wrong direction where they become vulnerable to predators, human activity or can become trapped.
Accidental captures in trawler and fishing nets pose another big threat to sea turtles. Many creatures caught accidentally in these nets get tossed aside to die. While those that are released usually have sustained injuries from being trapped in the nets and brought on to the fishing boats, which they are unlikely to survive.
Plastic pollution is not the only form of pollution that poses a threat to sea turtles. Pollutants like toxic metals, oil, petroleum, agricultural and industrial runoff can cause both immediate and long term health problems for sea turtles and other marine animals. Even when not directly exposed they are still at risk when their food has been contaminated by these pollutants.
Sea Turtle Conservation
We recognise that sea turtles are in desperate need of help! Which is why we partner with 2 sea turtle conservation projects who are doing great work in the field! Our partners in Costa Rica and Malaysia not only protect sea turtles, but are also actively involved in helping to develop effective management and conservation plans. Globalteer supports their work by providing volunteers to help carry out their important tasks. The help of volunteers in tasks such as night patrols to locate nests and re-locate them to a safe location until they hatch and can be released is invaluable!
Costa Rica Sea Turtle Conservation Project
Our partner in Costa Rica not only protects sea turtles but works towards making lasting changes for sea turtle conservation. They are part of a wider scientific network working in more than 40 neighbouring countries! They conduct two conservation programmes on the Caribbean and South Pacific coasts of Costa Rica. Their aim is “to create an environment where humans and sea turtles can live together in balance”. The project focuses on conserving four species of sea turtles; the Pacific Black, Olive Ridley, Leatherbacks and Hawksbills.
Sea Turtle Threats in Costa Rica
Poachers represent a considerable threat for sea turtles in Costa Rica. Their eggs, shells and meat are commonly traded. Poachers often raid beaches in order to find eggs to sell, so without appropriate protection, newborn turtle hatchlings can’t make it to the ocean. While poaching sea turtle eggs is illegal, enforcement of the law has remained difficult.
Additionally, many turtles get injured when they become entangled in fishing lines and equipment or collide with boats. The country is also rapidly developing, bringing more construction and people to coastlines where females lay their nest. If large parts of nesting beaches become developed, it will alter the nesting behaviour of females, possibly result in fewer nests, which could have significant impacts for the species.
To help protect and conserve sea turtles, the Costa Rica project operates 2 programmes; nest protection on the Caribbean coast and in-water studies & a rehabilitation centre on the Southern Pacific Coast.
Nest Protection on the Caribbean Coast
One of the best ways to help sea turtles survive is to protect their nests from poachers, so the babies have a chance to hatch and make it to the ocean. On the Caribbean coast the project protects a 7.1km stretch of beach which is the nesting site for Leatherback, Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles. From March to Novemeber project staff, assisted by the help of volunteers, patrol the stretch of beach nightly looking for nests. When nests are found they are carefully relocated to hatcheries that are guarded 24/7. In the safety of the hatchery the eggs remain until they hatch and then hatchlings are released onto the beach and into the ocean.
Former poachers, now trained in conservation techniques, make up part of the team and lead the nightly patrols. As former poachers they are adept at finding nests, so the patrols are more efficient. By teaching these former poachers about the importance of sea turtles and giving them a legitimate source of income, they don't need to poach nests to make money and don't have any more trouble with the law.
In-Water Surveys and Rehabilitation Centre
On the southern pacific coast of Costa Rica the projects runs a programme that consists of in-water studies and research. They also run a rehabilitation centre that has been operating since 2011. The centre treats rescued turtles that have been injured in the area. Once the turtles have been rehabilitated back to health they are released back into the ocean.
The project recognises that for effective conservation plans to be developed, it is essential to understand their behavioural patterns. The team collects data to study the population numbers, structure, genetic origins, health, feeding patterns, habitat use and movements. The programme collects information by tagging and collecting biometric data from individual turtles in the area. By knowing their movements, feeding patterns, general heath, and necessary statistics, the project can assess the threats they are exposed to in the area to formulate effective plans for management of the species'.
The organisation also has a Mangrove Reforestation Programme as mangroves play a vital role in marine ecology and sea turtle lives. Seagrass provides a vital food source for sea turtles, so the team also monitors the health of seagrass in the area.
Alternatives for Locals
As in most places in Costa Rica, poaching of turtles is a problem along the Southern Pacific coast. The project helps to create alternative livelihoods for locals so they don't need to poach nests. They train local partners to receive volunteers and tourists sustainably in community homestays, increasing income opportunities, and helping with the efficiency of the conservation efforts. Consequently, it is a great step forward in tackling this problem.
Highlights from the Costa Rica Project
While all of the work being done is vitally important to sea turtle conservation, protecting nests so that the babies turtles are able to make it to the ocean is one of the most important tasks. In the 2019 nesting season, on the Caribbean coast, the project;
- Protected 296 Leatherback nests.
- Released 6,749 Leatherback hatchlings.
- Protected 49 Green sea turtle nests.
- Released 4,227 Green hatchlings.
- Released 1,186 Hawksbill hatchlings.
Of course, treating and rehabilitating injured sea turtles is another proud highlight of the project. Since the rehabilitation centre opened it doors it has received more than 100 turtles that have been rehabilitated and released back into the wild.
Malaysia Sea Turtle Conservation Project
Our partner in Malaysia is an Outdoor Adventure social enterprise that focuses on conservation projects. Among them is the Sea Turtle Conservation project, located on the beautiful Perhentian Island. The project, established in 2015, helps to create effective conservation and management plans by studying the local population.
Threats to Sea Turtles in Malaysia
Like many places, poaching of nests is a big problem for the sea turtle population in Malaysia. They also face problems from over-exploitation of coral reefs, plastic waste, pollution and coastal development. They also face the threat of accidental capture by commercial and artisanal fisheries. To best protect the population in Malaysia, it is vital to understand the sea turtles that inhabit their waters.
How the Project is Helping
The Malaysia Sea Turtle Conservation project conducts snorkel surveys to create a photo identification database to monitor the sea turtle population. They work closely with the Malaysian Department of Fisheries and Marine Parks Division to help protect sea turtles in the Perhentian Islands.
The project also helps conservation efforts by protecting nests on the island. Nightly patrols are conducted to find nests and relocated them to the safety of their hatchery until they hatch and can be released back into the ocean. Additionally, they conduct regular beach clean-ups to clear beaches of litter that could end up in the ocean and pose a threat to sea turtles and other marine life.
They also recognise that in order to make a long term impact, education is a key factor. They engage with the local communities to raise awareness for sea turtles conservation and caring for the marine environment. By building a close relationship with the local community and stakeholders they gain their support in their activities on the island; another important factor in successful conservation efforts.
Coral reefs and seagrass beds are important habitats and feeding grounds for sea turtles. Alike many other ecosystems, they are under threat. Our partner in Malaysia also operates a Marine Conservation project. They collect data and monitor the health of coral reefs and seagrass beds around the Perhenitian Islands. Using this data they are better able to protect and improve the health of this important ecosystem. The also operate programmes to raise environmental awareness among locals and tourists on the islands.
In 2019 the Malaysia Sea Turtle Project;
- Relocated 29,118 eggs to the safety of the hatchery.
- Released 24,927 hatchlings.
- Conducted 23 Beach Clean Ups across 9 different beaches on the island. With the help of 484 participants they cleaned up a staggering 458 kg of rubbish!
- 160 new turtle IDs were made.
- Gave 28 talks on public awareness.
The Future of Sea Turtle Conservation!
Both of these projects are doing great work for sea turtle conservation. Not only by protecting nests so hatchlings have a chance to make it to the ocean, but also through their important research and statistical collections. Effective conservation plans need to follow not only the turtles themselves, but the threats they face as well. Through their research programmes our partners are doing just this.While they have already made amazing progress, there is still a lot to be done to protect and conserve the livelihoods of our sea turtles. Their continued research efforts will be vital in the years to come. They will also be vital in education efforts, as education is the key to the conservation of all marine life and ecosystems in general.
What can you do to help sea turtles conservation efforts?
- Volunteer! Patrolling large stretches of beach and protecting nests is no easy task. Volunteers are invaluable in helping with these tasks. Additionally, the help of volunteers goes a long way assisting with the research projects too.
- Spread the message. Share your love of sea turtles, the threats they face and how your family and friends can help you help them. Awareness and education are the keys for change.
- Say no to Plastic. Help reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up on beaches and in our ocean where it harms our precious marine life. Just say no to single use plastic and opt for reusable products instead.
- Donate! Many projects doing great work in conservation rely in-part on donations to carry out their work. Any donation, no matter how small makes a difference to their efforts. You can also hold your own fundraiser to help sea turtle conservation efforts!