The Sea Turtle, - A very characteristic beautiful animal that has roamed the Oceans for merely 100 million Years, - since the time of the dinosaurs. Once, millions of sea turtles inhabited the oceans, - but unfortunately today, almost all 7 Sea Turtle species are listed as endangered species. Why exactly ? And does it matter ? Aren't Sea Turtles just eye-candy for humans and “Instagram feeds”, - or are they vital for the balance of the Oceans ecosystem ?
In this Editorial we will discover some of the main reasons why Sea Turtles are listed as Endangered Species, why this matters, and what we can do as individuals to contribute to a more sustainable future for Sea Turtles.
At first : What is a Sea Turtle ?
Sea Turtles are rather large, reptiles that inhabit the oceans. They breathe air and need to go ashore to nest (lay their eggs). Otherwise, they stay below surface, - feed on jellyfish, soft corals, fish and more.
They can grow very old, (approx. 50+ years old) - and in their lifespand, they face many threats, - most of which are directly human caused.
Sea Turtles are beautiful, elegant beings, that has inspired mankind though centuries. Sea Turtles are by many cultures considered to have a mythological and spiritual importance, as they for instance appear in folklore and myths, many places around the world, - to mention a few : the Caribbean, in Africa, Peru, and Hawaii.
Though these sentient beings, has also been targeted by other human cultures though centuries.
In Cape Verde, many old traditions for using sea turtles to create “traditional medicine” exist. An example is drinking the blood from the freshly slaughtered sea turtle, - which was/is believed to increase longevity and also a treatment of Asthma, Anemia & Thrombosis.
Read more about Cape Verdes use of Sea Turtle in Traditional Medicine by following the link below :
China also uses sea turtles for “traditional medical treatment”…
The birth of using traditional medicine, - was a combination of ignorance as well as superstition. China, has been using sea turtles for medicine for thousands of Years, - and it was believed to cure anything spanning from a deadly disease to a boring sex-life. Though as time has passed, knowledge has grown, - and today, all of these theories as well as beliefs has been proven to fail. Though unfortunately, - the traditional mindsets domination in the Chinese culture, combined with a growing population and middle class, - is a dangerous cocktail, - since this is nurturing the demand for sea turtles.
Using traditional Sea Turtle medicine was some thousand years ago, only an option for the society elite - which ment, the demand for sea turtles was at a, if one shall say so, “tolerant” level…
But today, - the Chinese population is growing vastly, and the middleclass can afford to buy sea turtle medicine. And since Sea Turtle medicine was once only an option for the society elite, the upcoming level of the society want to be able to do the same as their superiors though out generations. Therefore, traditional Sea turtle medicine has become popular and somewhat normal consumption, which means this poses an enormous threat to sea turtles, and is contributing to drive them towards extinction.
Below You are able to find an article about “The threat of traditional medicine: China’s boom may mean doom for turtles”
But this is not the only threat to the existence of sea turtles.
Many places around the globe, sea turtles are targeted for their meat, as well as their eggs.
This makes sea turtles vulnerable, - especially in the periode when the females go ashore to nest.
In Mexico, thousands of people annually journey to the coastal regions at Easter time, searching for female sea turtles. During this single week, in this isolated region, an estimated 5.000 sea turtles are killed for consumption.
This is only one example on how the consumption of sea turtles and their eggs, also plays an enormous part of sea turtles facing extinction.
Until the 1970´s, sea turtle soup was also a popular delicacy in Europe, - this ended when Sea Turtles were recognized as endangered species… However, - still today, Europeans also contribute to the demand for Sea Turtles, - by for instance, sometimes unknowingly, buying jewelry and other exotic decor, made from sea turtles beautiful shells. The sea turtle specie targeted the most for its shell is the “Hawksbill Sea Turtle”. Due to the demand of jewelry and other exotic luxury, also sold on the black market, made from the Hawksbills shell, it is estimated that the Hawksbill sea turtle population has declined by 90 % during the past 100 years ! Yet another threat to sea turtles…
When discussing issues and dangers to sea turtles, it is impossible to leave out the perhaps two greatest threats posed to sea turtles : Commercial fishing and Plastic.
Every single year an estimation of hundreds of thousands of sea turtles die, due to fishing activity. This ranges from high scale commercial longline and trawl fishing, to small scale fishermen catching sea turtles around the globe.
There has been made some estimations for the mortality rate of sea turtles in the fishing industry, - and the numbers are ungraspable !
50.000 leatherbacks & 200.000 loggerheads are captured/killed by longlines, 150.000 sea turtles are killed in ship trawls, as an example, - and the mortality number for gill nets remains unknown.
Since the fishing industry poses such an enormous threat to sea turtles, there are many initiatives to find solutions to save some sea turtles from being killed by the fishing industry.
A brilliant example is TED (Turtle Excluder Devices). TED is an invention for the shrimp trawl industry, to be able to naturally exclude the sea turtle from the small ships, by simply creating a opening in the trawl nets, - that sea turtles are able to push themselves though with their hard shells !
You are able to watch a Ted talk about the Turtle Excluder Device by following the link below:
The last issue this editorial will mention, is plastic and sea turtles.
(There are other issues like Climate Change, Oil spills, artificial lighting, invasive species etc. also affecting sea turtles, which you can find more information about by following the link below:
Since many sea turtles mainly consume jellyfish, - the looks of plastic can often be mistaken as a jellyfish of sorts.
Several studies has been made the past years, that proved every sea turtle participating in the study had consumed plastic, below You can find an example.
And a study made later suggested that even one single piece of plastic could be deadly to the sea turtle that consumed it… You can find this study below.
When looking into all the threats posed to sea turtles, and how they have declined as species only the past 100 years, the future looks very gloomy for sea turtles…
But You can make a difference !
In the intro of this Editorial, the importance of sea turtles was questioned… Sea turtles are vital for the Oceans functioning of the ecosystem !
They are for instance some of the most important species in the puzzle on regulating the amount of jellyfish, - in order for the ocean to avoid jellification, - that would cause severe problems if it should become a reality. Read the Editorial on Jellification by following the link : https://www.oceansdaily.com/the-archive/jellificaton-a-nightmarish-reality
So it is of outmost importance that we make sure sea turtles will not go extinct !
Here are 5 suggestions - What You can do to be the change, and contribute to a more sustainable future for sea turtles :
1 Become a Conscious Consumer
Research where Your seafood comes from, choose seafood that comes from aquaculture, - or choose fish caught sustainably by more controlled fishing methods
Read more at :
2 Refuse single use plastic, reduce the amount of garbage You produce & help clean up trash
Plastic poses a major threat to sea turtles as mentioned above. By refusing single use plastic, you actively send a message to the producers that you wish for more sustainable solutions for the future ! And if You help clean up some of the trash You find on Your way, that is less trash in the ocean. An estimation of 80% of all waste in the Ocean comes from land.
3 Be aware and avoid to use a large amount of Chemicals
The chemicals you use on land, will eventually end up in the ocean. New studies prove, that chemicals originating from land, causes ocean animals dying, - including sea turtles. So try to avoid using a large amount of chemicals.
4 Avoid buying sea turtle souvenirs
When traveling, avoid buying sea turtle souvenirs like jewelry, dried sea turtles, hairpins etc. since buying would support the illegal poaching of sea turtles.
5 Take care of the beach and the ocean
When bathing in the ocean, - remember the oceans are connected, and we all share the same water ! Take care of the ocean, and take care of the beach. Leave it as You found it, or help clean it up if needed.
By Naja Bertolt Jensen