Threats to sea turtles

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Loggerhead sea turtle escapes from fishing net through a turtle excluder device (TED) Logger ted 01.jpg
Loggerhead sea turtle escapes from fishing net through a turtle excluder device (TED)

Threats to sea turtles are numerous and have caused many sea turtle species to be endangered. Of the seven extant species of sea turtles, six in the family Cheloniidae and one in the family Dermochelyidae, all are listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. The list classifies six species of sea turtle as "threatened", two of them as "critically endangered", one as "endangered" and three as "vulnerable". The flatback sea turtle is classified as "data deficient" which means that there is insufficient information available for a proper assessment of conservation status. [1] Although sea turtles usually lay around one hundred eggs at a time, on average only one of the eggs from the nest will survive to adulthood. [2] While many of the things that endanger these hatchlings are natural, such as predators including sharks, raccoons, foxes, and seagulls, [3] many new threats to the sea turtle species have recently arrived and with [4]

Contents

Artificial lighting

One of the greatest threats to the survival of hatchlings is artificial lighting. When a sea turtle hatches, its evolutionary instincts push it to move towards the brightest light in view, which naturally would be the sun or the moon, leading them toward the ocean horizon and into their new ecosystem. [5] However, due to the continual expansion of cities, construction of condos and hotels on coasts everywhere has grown exponentially. With the invention of the light bulb and therefore artificial light, the sea turtle's natural source of guiding light has been replaced and is no longer the only or the brightest thing of light. With virtually every coast in Mexico now constantly lit with buildings, the hatchlings become easily confused and turned around, few of them making successful treks to the ocean. [6] Studies support artificial light as the leading cause for hatchling disorientation, showing that in 1999, 51% of the nests studied showed signs of confusion with one-fourth of all the hatchlings headed in the wrong direction. [7] As artificial lighting has been shown to be significantly harmful to the offspring of sea turtles, there have been several large-scale conservation efforts by Marine Life programs and conservation groups like that continue to educate the public on turtle conservation. Communities situated on or near a beach have been warned of the effects excessive lighting has on sea turtles and there has been substantial attempts to darken beaches and replace harmful artificial lighting with turtle-safe lights. Some entire communities have adopted official sea turtle protection regulations, such as Florida's “Lights-out” policy. [8]

Magnetic interference

Ferrous metal wire mesh screens are commonly used to protect sea turtle nests from predators' excavating and devouring the eggs and hatchlings. A new concern is that nestlings' delicate magnetic sense may not develop normally in the presence of the magnetic field interference from these steel mesh cages. The effects of the use of steel mesh as a cage material may not be known for many years until assessments can be made of the success rate of the first adult populations that developed within such cages begin attempting landfall for nest-making. Gravid turtles or their hatchlings may also be affected by the presence of magnetic fields arising from power cables, iron debris, steel seawalls or other human activities that locally modify earth's magnetic field. [5]

Oil spills and marine pollution

An oiled Kemp's ridley sea turtle Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation.jpg
An oiled Kemp's ridley sea turtle

Marine pollution is both directly harmful to sea turtles as well as indirectly, through the deterioration of their natural habitats. Some of the most dangerous ocean pollutants include toxic metals, PCBs, fertilizers, untreated waste, chemicals, and a variety of petroleum products. Oil spills are particularly dangerous to sea turtles. [9] Although oil does not tend to stick to them as it does to other marine life, sea turtles are still at risk when they surface for air, where oil can get in their eyes, skin, and lungs which can lead to significant health problems. Even if they are not directly in contact with marine pollution, sea turtles can still ingest harmful chemicals through the food they eat. Oil is also a cause for the death of seagrass, which is a large staple in the diet of the green turtle. The diets of the hawksbill sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, and Kemp's ridley sea turtle species have also been affected by the oil's role in the reduction of certain sponges and invertebrates. Extended exposure has been found to deteriorate the health of a sea turtle in general, making it more weak and vulnerable to a variety of other threats. [10] According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Program, the migration habits of sea turtles increase their exposure to marine pollution at each of the stages of their lives including eggs, hatchlings, juveniles, sub adults, or nesting adults. A 1994 study off of Florida's Atlantic coast, 63% of hatchlings surveyed had been found to have ingested tar. Loggerheads in particular have been shown to have the most problems with tarball ingestion, leading to esophageal swelling that can dislocate the intestines and liver leading to serious buoyancy issues as well as excessive swelling. [9] Many regions heavily associated with oil, either exploration, transportation, or processing, are also significant sea turtle environments, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and particularly the coasts of Texas and Florida. [10] Sea turtles existing in the exact areas where oil spills occur are not the only ones at risk due to the strong and far reaching ocean currents which can move pollution to great distances from its derivation. [11] Breeding season is in particular a dangerous time for sea turtles due to the pollution of beach nesting sites. [12] Contamination of their diet can lead to disruption of digestion as well as physical injury of the sea turtles' digestive tracts. The nesting of female sea turtles is often deterred due to the potential of oily effluence. [9] If the female does lay eggs, the development of the eggs is still at risk due to either oil in the sand or contamination from the mother turtle that was oiled while nesting. If the eggs in the nest have contact with oil while in the last half of their incubation phase, the rate of hatchling survival sharply decreases and those that do survive have a greater chance of physical deformities. [13]

Ocean plastic

8 million tons of plastic make their way to the ocean every year. [14] Discarded plastic bags floating in the ocean resemble jellyfish, a common food of sea turtles. If a turtle eats a plastic foil, it tends to clog the turtle's digestive system and results in the animal dying. There have been many cases of dissection showing plastic foil and other debris inside turtles stomachs and intestines. [15] There have also been cases where sea turtles have been found with plastic straws in their noses, plastic bags or toothbrushes in their stomachs, or fish hooks stuck on their flippers. [16] Plastic straws can be dangerous to sea turtles, too, because they are often mistaken for food. [17] This can cause the sea turtle to choke or die of starvation because they think that they are full, but they are not. [17] Despite being small, plastic straws are among the top items that pollute the ocean. [18]

Tourism

Owing to the popularity of numerous sea turtle species, people often travel to areas where the turtles nest, live to observe and photograph them [19] . This has resulted in numerous deaths of the turtles through boat collisions, tourists attempting to catch or steal individuals, and other incidents. In Costa Rica, tourists have recently been criticised for interfering with the nesting habits of the resident olive ridley sea turtles, disrupting and confusing the animals by attempting to take selfies with them. [20]

Boats

Image of a manatee with boat strike injuries. Similar injuries occur on turtle with parallel cuts (as shown in the image) or by blunt force trauma. Manatee bearing scars on back from boat propeller.jpg
Image of a manatee with boat strike injuries. Similar injuries occur on turtle with parallel cuts (as shown in the image) or by blunt force trauma.

There are numerous threats to sea turtles associated with boats including: oil spills, habitat degradation, and vessel collisions. [21] Boat strike injuries result in two types of injuries: blunt force trauma and propeller slices in the carapace. [22] Blunt force trauma is from the hull of the boat hitting the turtle. Blunt force trauma results in a cracking, less obvious, injury on the turtle's carapace. Propeller strikes form clear cut, parallel lines on the carapace of the turtle. The propeller wounds can cut into the spinal cord or lungs if deep enough, as these are located dorsally on the animal attached to the underside of the carapace. [23] Sea turtle stranding data is the primary method of quantifying boat strike injuries, which has increased by 20% in Florida between 1985 and 2005. [24] In general, sea turtles are not able to avoid boat collisions when boats are travelling too quickly. [25] Also, the faster a boat is travelling the more damage is done to the turtle, making incidents more lethal. [26] When sea turtles surface to breathe they continue swimming in the water column just below the surface, this allows them to get a few breathes in at a time, and then dive into deeper water to hunt or forage. This depth is the ideal depth for the propeller of the boat to hit the turtle, it also makes it even more difficult for boaters to try and avoid the turtle, since they can't be seen.

There are ways to mitigate the problem. Speed reduction zones have been beneficial for species such as the Florida manatee. [27] These zones would be especially important implemented in shallow, coastal regions near popular nesting beaches during nesting season. Vessel modification are another way that boaters can reduce their influence on marine life. Jet board motors have an impeller that eliminates the threat of propeller damage to marine turtles. The motor rests only a few inches from the hull of the boat, meaning it is less likely to hit turtles that are not surfacing to breathe. Propeller guards are slightly helpful at idle speeds, but once a boat begins to reach higher planing speeds they are ineffective in protecting the turtle from the propeller. [26]

Sea turtles that strand alive with boat injuries can be treated at rehabilitation facilities. Treatment is not always successful, but there are turtles that do survive boat strike injuries.

Fishing

According to an article in AAAS & Science, over 8 million sea turtles have died over the past twenty years due to injuries caused by being accidentally caught by fishing boats. [28] Fisheries often use large-scale nets and hook systems that are indiscriminate and catch whatever comes along, be it sea turtle, dolphin, or even shark. What is known as "bycatch" is a large contributor to sea turtle deaths, as seen in Baja California. [28] Longline, trawl, [29] and gillnet fishing are three types of fishing with the most sea turtle accidents. Deaths occur often because of drowning, where the sea turtle was ensnared and could not come up for air. [30] Another dangerous aspect of fishing that is common is when sea turtles inadvertently swallow sharp hooks, which can get stuck within the soft tissue of the throat and stomach, or damage vital organs and intestines. [31]

Poaching

Captured sea turtle waiting to be slaughtered for meat at the Jamestown Fishing Harbor, Accra, Ghana Muntaka-Chasant-Sea-Turtle-wikipedia.jpg
Captured sea turtle waiting to be slaughtered for meat at the Jamestown Fishing Harbor, Accra, Ghana

In many countries sea turtles are captured, killed, and traded for their meat, shells and for their leather flippers. Eggs are also at risk of poaching and are commonly eaten by humans and are considered a delicacy in certain cultures. Other cultures believe sea turtle eggs to be aphrodisiacs, while others claim that eating them yields longevity. [32] In some islands, parts of the sea turtle are used in ceremonies and are considered sacred. Other times, the carcasses harvested are made into jewelry, instruments, souvenirs, sunglasses, or wall decorations, especially of the hawksbill variety which are desired for the striking details of the shell. [33]

Global warming

Placard "I speak for the sea turtles", at the People's Climate March (2017). Climate March 0841 (34210334302).jpg
Placard "I speak for the sea turtles", at the People's Climate March (2017).

Global warming is estimated to have serious effects on wildlife over the next few decades. There is evidence that sea turtles have already been affected. With the increase of temperature, polar ice has melted and has led to the rise of sea levels. This rise in sea levels has been a factor in the loss of beach, which for sea turtles means less nesting area. Global warming has been associated with severe weather, which could mean harsh and numerous storms that erode beaches and flood nests. [34] As the overall temperature of the earth rises, so does the temperature of the sand, which diminishes the rate of hatchling survival. The temperature of the sand also affects gender, as higher temperatures have been shown to yield more female hatchlings. Changes in climate also influence currents and change the number and location of prey species. Water that is too warm can also cause coral bleaching, which is detrimental to reefs that are essential to certain species, such as the hawksbill sea turtle. [35]

Disease

A sea turtle with fibropapillomatosis. Turtlewithfptumors0149026.jpg
A sea turtle with fibropapillomatosis.

A disease known as fibropapillomatosis manifests itself in turtles through external tumors. These tumors often grow to be so large that they hinder a sea turtle's ability to see, eat, and swim, therefore rendering the sea turtle unable to survive. Inexplicably, the majority of the cases of fibropapillomatosis have been diagnosed in the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) while none have been in the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). Cases of this disease have been found in all major oceans. Although the causes of this disease are not clear, many believe the source to be viral. These tumors are either smooth or contain pointed projections and they are red, pink, grey, black, or purple in color. These tumors are usually located anywhere on the soft skin tissue of the sea turtle, either the neck, eyes, or bottom of the flippers and range in size anywhere from a pea to a grapefruit. [36]

Conservation efforts and rehabilitation centers

A study by Discovery News targets the Mediterranean, the Eastern Pacific, the Southwest Atlantic, and the Northwest Atlantic as the regions in the direst need of preservation endeavors. In 1963, the Marine Turtle Group was created by the chairman of the Survival Service Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as the first international forum for sea turtle research and conservation. [37] In the United States in 1973, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was passed, providing protection for all sea turtle species, and in 1977, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce the ESA with regards to sea turtles. USFWS is responsible for all sea turtle conservation on nesting beaches and NOAA Fisheries are responsible for the marine conservation of sea turtles. The conservation of sea turtles on an international scale has been led by two major environmental agreements: the Indian Ocean – South-East Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding and the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles. [38] In an attempt to lessen the number of turtles killed by fishing incidents, several new types of turtle-safe fishing equipment have been introduced such as the circle hooks, [39] fish bait, and turtle excluder devices. [40] Poaching has been outlawed in most countries and turtle conservation education has been growing in both in size and efficiency.

Rehabilitation centers have been established as well, such as the Marine Life Center in Juno Beach, Florida [41] and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center located on Topsail Island, North Carolina. [42] The purpose of these centers is to help protect the local and endangered sea turtle population by: a) rescuing sick or injured turtles and taking them to the treatment facility, b) rehabilitating these turtles through various types of treatment and/or surgery, and c) releasing turtles back into the ocean once they have been successfully nursed back to health. Although some sea turtles' injuries are so severe that they can never become healed to the extent of being able to survive on their own outside of the facilities, hundreds of the patients from both the Gordon and Patricia Gray Veterinary Hospital in Juno Beach and the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Island have been successfully rehabilitated and released in the last couple of decades.

Evaluating the progress of conservation programs is difficult, because many sea turtle populations have not been assessed adequately. [43] Most information on sea turtle populations comes from counting nests on beaches, but this doesn't provide an accurate picture of the whole sea turtle population. [44] A 2010 United States National Research Council report concluded that more detailed information on sea turtles' life cycles, such as birth rates and mortality, is needed. [45]

See also

Related Research Articles

Sea turtle Reptiles of the superfamily Chelonioidea

Sea turtles, sometimes called marine turtles, are reptiles of the order Testudines and of the suborder Cryptodira. The seven existing species of sea turtles are the green sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, Kemp's ridley sea turtle, olive ridley sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, flatback sea turtle, and leatherback sea turtle.

Cheloniidae family of turtles

Cheloniidae is a family of typically large marine turtles that are characterised by their common traits such as, having a flat streamlined wide and rounded shell and almost paddle-like flippers for their forelimbs. The six species that make up this family are: the green sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, olive ridley sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, flatback sea turtle and the Kemp's ridley sea turtle.

Leatherback sea turtle Species of marine reptile in the family Chelonidae

The leatherback sea turtle, sometimes called the lute turtle or leathery turtle or simply the luth, is the largest of all living turtles and is the fourth-heaviest modern reptile behind three crocodilians. It is the only living species in the genus Dermochelys and family Dermochelyidae. It can easily be differentiated from other modern sea turtles by its lack of a bony shell, hence the name. Instead, its carapace is covered by skin and oily flesh.

Olive ridley sea turtle The most abundant living sea turtle in the world

The olive ridley sea turtle, also known commonly as the Pacific ridley sea turtle, is a species of turtle in the family Cheloniidae. The species is the second smallest and most abundant of all sea turtles found in the world. Lepidochelys olivacea is found in warm and tropical waters, primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but also in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Hatchling the emergence of an immature organism from a protective structure

In oviparous biology, a hatchling is a newly hatched fish, amphibian, reptile, or bird. A group of mammals called monotremes lay eggs, and their young are hatchlings as well.

Loggerhead sea turtle Species of marine reptile distributed throughout the world

The loggerhead sea turtle, is a species of oceanic turtle distributed throughout the world. It is a marine reptile, belonging to the family Cheloniidae. The average loggerhead measures around 90 cm (35 in) in carapace length when fully grown. The adult loggerhead sea turtle weighs approximately 135 kg (298 lb), with the largest specimens weighing in at more than 450 kg (1,000 lb). The skin ranges from yellow to brown in color, and the shell is typically reddish brown. No external differences in sex are seen until the turtle becomes an adult, the most obvious difference being the adult males have thicker tails and shorter plastrons than the females.

Kemps ridley sea turtle Species of sea turtle

Kemp's ridley sea turtle, also called the Atlantic ridley sea turtle, is the rarest species of sea turtle and is critically endangered. It is one of two living species in the genus Lepidochelys.

Green sea turtle Species of large sea reptile of the family Cheloniidae

The green sea turtle, also known as the green turtle, black (sea) turtle or Pacific green turtle, is a species of large sea turtle of the family Cheloniidae. It is the only species in the genus Chelonia. Its range extends throughout tropical and subtropical seas around the world, with two distinct populations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but it is also found in the Indian Ocean. The common name refers to the usually green fat found beneath its carapace, not to the color of its carapace, which is olive to black.

Flatback sea turtle species of sea turtle

The Australian flatback sea turtle is a species of sea turtle in the family Cheloniidae. The species is endemic to the sandy beaches and shallow coastal waters of the Australian continental shelf. This turtle gets its common name from the fact that its shell has a flattened or lower dome than the other sea turtles. It can be olive green to grey with a cream underside. It averages from 76 to 96 cm in carapace length and can weigh from 70 to 90 kg. The hatchlings, when emerging from nests, are larger than other sea turtle hatchlings when they hatch. The flatback turtle is listed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as data deficient, meaning there is insufficient scientific information to determine its conservation status at this time. It was previously listed as vulnerable in 1994. It is not as threatened as other sea turtles due to its small dispersal range.

Cayo Costa State Park state park on Cayo Costa Island in Florida

Cayo Costa State Park is a Florida State Park on Cayo Costa, which is directly south of Boca Grande, 12 miles (19 km) west of Cape Coral and just north of North Captiva Island. The park is accessible only by charter boat, private boat, ferry or helicopter.

Mon Repos Conservation Park

Mon Repos Conservation Park is a national park containing an important turtle rookery located at Mon Repos, Bundaberg Region, Queensland, Australia, 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) east of Bundaberg. Mon Repos hosts the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland and supports the most significant nesting population of the endangered loggerhead turtle in the South Pacific Ocean. Successful breeding here is critical if the loggerhead species is to survive. In far smaller numbers the flatback and green turtles and, intermittently, the leatherback turtle also nest along the Bundaberg coast.

Hawksbill sea turtle Species of marine reptile in the family Chelonidae

The hawksbill sea turtle is a critically endangered sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. It is the only extant species in the genus Eretmochelys. The species has a worldwide distribution, with Atlantic and Indo-Pacific subspecies—E. i. imbricata and E. i. bissa, respectively.

Zakynthos Marine Park marine protected area in Ionian sea, Greece

The National Marine Park of Zakynthos founded in 1999, is a national park located in Laganas bay, in Zakynthos island, Greece. The park, part of the Natura 2000 ecological network, covers an area of 135 square kilometres (52 sq mi) and is the habitat of the loggerhead sea turtle. It is the first national park established for the protection of sea turtles in the Mediterranean.

Tour de Turtles: A Sea Turtle Migration Marathon, or simply Tour de Turtles, is an annual online migration-tracking event hosted by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation. Endangered sea turtles are monitored using an attached but harmless satellite tracking device. Caribbean Conservation Corporation biologists gather satellite tracking information in order to better understand sea turtle migration patterns. Understanding sea turtle migration patterns would allow for sea turtle conservation groups to lobby for more sea turtle protection in proven areas with higher sea turtle populations. Sea turtles are the participants for the Tour de Turtle marathon. Participating sea turtles are tracked as they race to be the first to complete a 2,620-kilometre (1,628 mi) journey that is estimated to last three months. Tour de Turtles aims to increase awareness about different sea turtle species and the threats to their survival. The turtle to first swim the 1,628 miles wins the marathon.

Golden ghost crab Species of crustacean

Ocypode convexa, commonly known as the golden ghost crab, or alternatively the western ghost crab or yellow ghost crab, is a species of ghost crabs endemic to the coast of Western Australia, from Broome to Perth. They are relatively large ghost crabs, with a carapace growing up to 45 mm (1.8 in) long and 52 mm (2.0 in) wide. They are easily recognisable by their golden yellow colouration. Like other ghost crabs they have box-like bodies with unequally sized claws. They also have large eyestalks with the cornea occupying most of the bottom part.

Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program

The Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program (GTCP) is an environmental organisation based at the Gnaraloo pastoral station and run by the Gnaraloo Wilderness Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation. The aim of the GTCP is to identify, monitor and protect the nesting beaches of loggerhead sea turtles found at two locations on the Gnaraloo coastline. These two rookeries contribute to the South-East Indian Ocean subpopulation of loggerhead turtles, with other major nesting sites for this sub-population at Dirk Hartog island and Exmouth. This is within the southern boundaries of the Ningaloo Coast marine area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Bald Head Island Conservancy (BHIC) is a non-profit organization founded November 7, 1983. BHIC's mission is barrier island conservation, preservation and education. It is located in the Smith Island Complex in Brunswick County, North Carolina, which includes Bald Head Island, Middle and Bluff Islands, all of which are bounded by the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. BHIC sponsors and facilitates scientific research that benefits coastal communities and provides numerous recreational and educational activities for students, educators, visitors, and residents. In coordination with various organizations, partnerships and collaborations, the Conservancy has led the nation in conservation and research efforts and is uniquely poised to become a leader in Barrier Island Conservation world-wide.

Gnaraloo Feral Animal Control Program

The Gnaraloo Feral Animal Control Program (GFACP) operates in conjunction with the Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program (GTCP), a non-governmental organization whose aim is to monitor and protect sea turtle nesting beaches along the coast of Gnaraloo. Since its implementation in 2009, the GFACP has worked to reduce the impact of feral predators on sea turtle nests within these rookeries. Gnaraloo is located at the southern end of the Ningaloo Coast, a World Heritage Site. The Ningaloo Reef and surrounding coastline are home to important wildlife, including vulnerable and endangered sea turtle populations.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center Wildlife rehabilitation center in Juno Beach, Florida

Loggerhead Marinelife Center, located in Loggerhead Park, Juno Beach, Florida, is a sea turtle research, rehabilitation, education and conservation center. The center also manages the Juno Beach fishing pier, across the street from the park. Established in 1983, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center seeks to promote conservation of ocean ecosystems with a special focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles. Its facilities include a sea turtle hospital, a research laboratory, and exhibit areas including live sea turtles and other coastal creatures.

Loggerhead sea turtle policies of the Barack Obama Administration (2009-2017)

The loggerhead sea turtle, is protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. It was originally listed as a threatened species on July 28, 1978. The loggerhead turtle is the most prolific species of sea turtle in U.S. coastal waters.

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