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            Sea turtles play an important role in the ecosystem and
the marine ecosystem would suffer if they were to go extinct. They face many
threats; most of which are human caused. Activities like poaching and fishing
have caused six of the seven species to be classified as endangered or
vulnerable. Most of the threats they face are human caused but that also means
they are preventable. The good news is that there are many people out there
advocating for them and working hard to protect them. Hopefully if we continue
to protect the sea turtles and conserve their habitats we can rebuild their
population and these beautiful creatures will be around for many more years to
come.

            There is a lot of protection in place for the sea turtles
and it seems to be working. According to the article, “Global sea turtle
conservation successes” there has been a slight improvement in the sea turtle
populations. “Over the last 10 years, reports for individual sea turtle nesting
sites (rookeries) include both conservation success stories, with long-term
increases in the abundance of females and their nest numbers, and declines,
leading to imminent, likely localized extinctions” (Mazaris, Schofield,
Gkazinou, Almpanidou, and Hays, 2017, para. 3). Although there seems to be a
slight increase in some of the species of sea turtles it’s still important to
do what we can do protect them. Conservation is the key to continuing success.
“Positive trends in abundance are likely linked to the effective protection of
eggs and nesting females, as well as reduced bycatch” (Mazaris et al., 2017,
para. 1).

Conclusion

            People don’t need to belong to groups like the World
Wildlife Fund and the Sea Turtle Preservation Society to help protect the sea
turtles. There are little steps normal people can take to help make the
environment a safer place for sea turtles. One simple step everyone can take is
to clean up any trash on the beach whether it’s trash one brings to the beach
with them or trash left by others. Picking up trash provides a cleaner beach
for females to nest and reduces the likelihood of sea turtles eating something
they shouldn’t. Another simple step is to keep one’s distance. Sea turtles need
their space, so they can eat and nest peacefully. Another way people can help
is if someone notices an injured sea turtle that they call professionals for
help and not try to help themselves. They can further injury the sea turtle by
not handling the situation properly. Also, if someone notices others disturbing
or harming sea turtles it’s best to call the local police. One more way people
can be helpful is to simply advocate for the sea turtles. It doesn’t take much
to spread awareness about the importance of sea turtles and their habitats. The
more people that understand how important it is to leave their habitats
undisturbed the better off the sea turtle population will be.

            The most important law protecting the sea turtles is the
Endangered Species Act of 1973. This act protects animals that are classified
as endangered or threaten which qualifies six of the seven species of sea
turtles. “This designation makes it illegal to harm, harass or kill any sea
turtles, hatchlings or their eggs. It is also illegal to import, sell, or
transport turtles or their products” (“Information About Sea Turtles:
Conservation Strategies,” n.d., para. 2). The law protects animals nationwide.
Several individual states also have their own laws that protect the sea turtles
and their habitats. For example, “Some local governments have passed
regulations to eliminate or control artificial beachfront lighting, which is
known to deter females from nesting and disorient hatchlings” (“Information
About Sea Turtles: Conservation Strategies,” n.d., para. 4). One international regulation
is the “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species” which also
protects endangered or threaten species. “Sea turtles are covered under
Appendix I of this agreement and receive protection from international trade by
all countries that have signed the treaty” (“Information About Sea Turtles:
Conservation Strategies,” n.d., para. 3). These laws are a step in the right
direction to help protect the sea turtle population, but it isn’t always
possible to enforce them. To put a stop to poaching we need to find better ways
to strictly enforce the laws and have heavier punishments for those caught
breaking any of these laws. It may not be possible to control everyone but by
educating as many people as possible we can help people realize the importance
of sea turtles and how to get involved in protecting them.

            A third group devoted to protecting sea turtles is the
Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS). Their goal is to educate the public as
much as possible, so everyone can do their part. They are trained to handle
turtle-related emergencies as well as help with beach clean-ups. STPS motivates
the community to get involved in the conversation of sea turtles. They educate
citizens on things like threats they face, human disturbances, and what they
can do to help protect sea turtles. STPS are also trained to handle local
turtle-related emergencies. They will rescue any sea turtle in need and if
necessary bring them to a rehabilitation center. Once a month STPS will clean
up local beaches to give the sea turtles a safe environment as well as invite
the community to volunteer to help (“Sea Turtle Preservation Society,” n.d.).
There are many groups all over the world dedicated to protecting sea turtles.
They are each doing their part to help with the conservation and protection of
the sea turtles, spread awareness, educate others, and help rebuild the sea
turtle population. In addition to these groups there are laws in place to
protect the sea turtles.

            The Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is another group
dedicated to saving the sea turtles. Their goals are not only to protect these
creatures and their habitats but to also educate everyone about sea turtles and
their importance. They are strong advocates for sea turtles and work hard to
get people involved in protecting the sea turtles. They do extensive amounts of
research to help better understand the sea turtles. The research they do helps
them learn more about the sea turtles’ habits and how to better protect them.
STC advocates for the conservation of sea turtles’ habitats. They push hard for
funding to set up and protect safe areas for the sea turtles to live and nest.
STC also works hard to bring awareness and educate local communities about sea
turtles. They want to get as many people possible involved in the protection of
sea turtles (“About STC: Organizational Background,” n.d.). The Sea Turtle
Conservancy is doing their part to protect the sea turtles by educating the
public and spreading awareness.

            One group that is dedicated to not only saving the sea
turtles, but all species and their habitats is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Their goal is to protect animals all over the planet and help rebuild their
homes. WWF works closely with groups in the community to help protect sea
turtles from their biggest threats. One unintentional threat sea turtles face
is being caught by a fishermen’s hook or net. WWF try to motivate fishermen to
use more turtle-friendly equipment to prevent them from being unintentionally
caught and killed. WWF also works hard to fight illegal poaching. Poaching is a
way to make money for some countries, so WWF helps provide other methods of
making money so that poaching will no longer be a necessary way of life for
these areas. In addition to that they teach rangers how to monitor and protect sea
turtle nesting grounds. Another WWF goal is to protect the sea turtles’ homes.
They fight for protected areas where sea turtles can live freely without the
danger of humans present (“Sea Turtle,” n.d.). The World Wildlife Fund is doing
their part to put a stop to sea turtle threats and helping rebuild their
population.

            Sea turtles are an endangered species but fortunately
there are some forms of protection in place to help save the population. There
are groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and Sea Turtle Conservancy actively
working hard to protect the sea turtles. There are also some laws in place such
as the Endangered Species Act to protect them. Additionally, there are simple
steps people can take to help do their part in helping preserve the sea turtle
population.

Sea
Turtle Protection and Conservation

            The most natural threat sea turtles come across is predators.
The shell on their back provides a lot of protection from bigger animals making
them a difficult target. Their biggest enemies are killer whales, sharks, and
crocodiles. Sea turtle eggs are most likely to be the victim of a predator
attack. They have a bunch of different predators, “Among the most common are:
dogs, raccoons, ants, crabs, various kinds of seabirds, rats, snakes, dingoes,
jackals, lizards, and foxes” (“Sea Turtle Predators,” 2014, para. 4). Baby sea
turtles can be eaten once they are hatched usually by seabirds or large fish.
Predators are a natural part of life and a normal threat many animal faces. The
biggest threat sea turtles face is humans. Luckily for them some humans are working
to protect them.

            Sea turtles are also dealing with the loss of their
homes. Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the water, but females come
ashore to lay their eggs on beaches. Humans are making it harder for females to
find a safe place to lay their eggs. We are building more homes and buildings
on the beaches and just having a big, noisy crowd around is disturbing what was
once a peaceful and safe environment for the sea turtles. The human activities
also interfere with their food supply. Chemicals from close by farms and construction
sites can get into the run-off and poison their food supply (“Sea Turtle,”
n.d.). Without a safe place to eat and nest females won’t be able to lay their
eggs and the population will suffer.

            Plastic pollution is another threat sea turtles encounter.
To a sea turtle a plastic bag and a jellyfish look very similar. It is very
common for marine animals to eat plastic that has been washed into the ocean.
Plastic pollution takes the lives of more than 100 million marine animals
annually. Any form of plastic whether it’s a plastic bag, water bottle, or
balloon can fatally harm sea turtles even if just a small quantity is ingested.
Sea turtles are at a higher risk of choking because of the way their body is
built. “They have downward facing spines in their throats which prevents the
possibility of regurgitation. The plastic gets trapped in their stomachs, which
prevents them from properly swallowing food” (“Information About Sea Turtles:
Threats from Marine Debris,” n.d., para. 2). Sea turtles can choke or starve
due to ingesting plastic. There are millions of tons of plastic in the oceans
and most of it comes from land. “Eight percent of plastic debris comes from
land” (“Information About Sea Turtles: Threats from Marine Debris,” n.d., para.
1). Humans are careless with their trash and the sea turtles are paying the
price for it.

            Another huge threat sea turtles face is poaching. It is
illegal to poach and trade sea turtles but keep tracking of these illegal
activities is very difficult, so people continue to get away with it. They are
hunted for their eggs, meat, shells, and skin. In certain countries people eat
the eggs and meat while in other countries they sell the eggs to make money.
They are also used to make everyday objects. “Their shells and skins are also
used to make a variety of objects like jewelry, sunglasses, tourist trinkets,
instruments, and wall hangings” (“Illegal Poaching,” n.d., para. 2). Poaching
will always be a problem for sea turtles if poachers are able to keep making a
profit and people keep illegally buying turtles products.

            One of the biggest threats sea turtles face is fishing
related accidents. They have been known to get caught in fishermen’s nets. They
can be seriously hurt or even killed by these nets that are meant to be used to
catch fish. Although they can hold their breath for long periods of time sea
turtles still need air to breathe. Getting caught in a net can prevent them
from being able to swim back to the surface and eventually they drown. They can
also be drawn in or caught by fishermen’s hooks. “They can also sustain
internal injuries from hooks or external injures from entanglement, including
strangulation or amputation” (“Information About Sea Turtles: Threats from
Commercial Trawl Fishing,” n.d., para. 2). Fishing related accidents are
responsible for over 250,000 sea turtle deaths and injuries annually.

            Sea Turtles face many threats and as a result six of the
seven species of sea turtles are either vulnerable or endangered. The
Leatherbacks and Olive Ridleys are classified as vulnerable and the Loggerheads
and Green sea turtles are considered endangered. The Hawksbill and Kemp’s
Ridley species are classified as critically endangered which means their
population is extremely close to going extinct. The only one not on any list is
the Flatback species and that is due to the fact there isn’t enough data to
determine how large their population is. One natural threat they face is predators
but for the most part their biggest threats are human related. Some of the
biggest threats sea turtles face are fishing accidents, poaching, plastic pollution,
and loss of habitat which are all human-related issues (“Sea Turtle Threats,”
n.d.).

Sea
Turtle Threats

            Sea turtles are also important because they can bring in
large revenues for countries. Sea turtles are worth much more alive than dead
because they make an interesting tourist attraction. “Marine turtle tourism
brings in almost three times as much money as the sale of turtle products such
as meat, leather and eggs according to a new economic study by WWF” (Troëng & Drews, 2009, para. 1). The study done by WWF
found that countries that sold sea turtles products brought in an average of
$582,000 whereas countries that used sea turtles as a tourist attraction
brought in an average of $1.65 million (Troëng & Drews, 2009, paragraph 2).
Although using sea turtles as a tourist attraction may not be the most positive
idea at least it’s another reason for people to want to protect these
endangered species. Sea turtles are a vital part of the marine ecosystem. The
environment would suffer without them and sadly they face many threats that are
taking a toll on their population.

            Sea turtles’ diets also play an important role in the marine
ecosystem. Some species of sea turtles such as the Leatherbacks are carnivores
and eat other animals like jellyfish. Large numbers of jellyfish can be
problematic for humans; “…that are increasingly wreaking havoc on fisheries,
recreation, and other marine activities throughout the oceans” (“Are Sea
Turtles Worth Saving?,” n.d., paragraph 5). Sea turtles help control the
jellyfish population. The Hawksbill species are omnivores and one important
animal they eat are sponges. Sponges are a threat to corals, “Hawksbill turtles
eat sponges, preventing them from out-competing slow-growing corals” (“Are Sea
Turtles Worth Saving?,” n.d., paragraph 6). Sea turtles help control the sponge
population with the added benefit of allowing corals to grow. Green sea turtles
are herbivores that eat plants like seaweed and algae. By feeding on these
plants they help maintain healthy seagrass beds. Each species of sea turtles has
a different diet and each one helps sustain a healthy ecosystem. “If sea
turtles go extinct, it will cause declines in all the species whose survival
depends on healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs” (“Are Sea Turtles Worth
Saving?,” n.d., paragraph 6).

            Sea turtles play an important role in the marine ecosystem
and if they were to go extinct it would negatively impact the environment. A
female sea turtle comes ashore every couple of years to lay her eggs. Those
eggs are important for the health of beaches and dunes. The eggs are a source
of nutrients for these ecosystems and help with the growth of dune plants. Both
hatched and unhatched eggs benefit the dunes. “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 nutrients”
(“Are Sea Turtles Worth Saving?,” n.d., paragraph 3). Dune plants need the
nutrients from the eggs to grow stronger. Dune plants are important because
they help prevent erosion. If they are no sea turtles, then there won’t be any
eggs and no eggs mean unhealthy dune plants which would be harmful to the
environment. “If sea turtles went extinct, dune vegetation would lose a major
source of nutrients and would not be healthy or strong enough to maintain
dunes, allowing beaches to wash away” (“Are Sea Turtles Worth Saving?,” n.d.,
paragraph 4).

Why
Sea Turtles Are Important

            The seven species of sea turtles are unique and can’t be
replaced. Every species of sea turtle is either endangered or vulnerable. They
play an important role in the ecosystem and there will be consequences if better
action isn’t taken to protect these animals. Sea turtles face many threats
including humans. It’s up to humans to do what they can to protect these animals,
so their population can grow, and sea turtles can continue to do their part in
the environment.

            In addition to different habitats sea turtles also have
different diets. Sea turtles don’t have teeth but have strong jaws that form a
beak. Each species’ beak is different depending on their diet. Sea turtles can
be herbivores, carnivores, or both. Green sea turtles are an example of an
herbivore species with a diet of plants like algae and seaweed. Kemp’s ridleys
are carnivores that eat other marine animals such as crabs and shrimp. Olive
ridley will eat both plants and animals such as fish and algae (“Sea Turtle
Diet,” n.d.).

            Sea turtles can be found in all types of water worldwide.
While they prefer to live in shallow waters some sea turtles live in the ocean.
Different species make different areas of the world their home, and some
species have a wider range than others. For example, Loggerheads can be found
in coastal bays and streams worldwide whereas Flatbacks live on the coasts of
Australia. Leatherbacks can be found in most oceans all over the world whereas
Kemp’s ridleys only live in the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the United States
(“Sea Turtle Habitat,” 2014).

            Marine turtles also known as sea turtles have been on
Earth for millions of years. Some of the oldest sea turtle fossils discovered
are approximately 150 million years old. They belong to the Reptilia class
which means they are vertebrate creatures. There are seven different species of
sea turtles: Flatback, Green, Hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, Leatherback,
Loggerhead, and Olive ridley. The Leatherhead is the only species to have a
leathery skin top instead of a shell. The other six species have a shell made
up of hard scales. The scales are used to help identify the species of sea
turtle. Each species varies in the number, color, and arrangement of the scales
(“Information About Sea Turtles: An Introduction,” n.d.).

Introduction

 

Protecting
the Sea Turtles

Rachel
Mathews

Frederick
Community College

Introduction
to Oceanography

Professor
Esslinger

December
4, 2017

 

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