Here are a few of the major issues faced by Sea Turtles, all caused by humans
Illegal shell trade and poaching
Illegal shell trade
Hawksbill sea turtles, recognized for their beautiful gold and brown shells, have been hunted for centuries to create jewelry and other luxury items. As a result, these turtles are now listed as critically endangered. They are especially threatened in the Indian and Pacific oceans and along the Caribbean Coast. According to recent studies, scientists estimate that Hawksbill populations have declined by 90 percent during the past 100 years. To improve their survival outlook, an international agreement signed by 173 governments, known as CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), declared the trade of these shells illegal. However, the demand for shells continues today on the black market, especially in Japan. In Japan, the use of bekko (Japanese for Hawksbill shell) dates back more than 300 years. Even today, bekko combs remain an important part of the traditional Japanese wedding dress. This cultural importance contributed significantly to the international trade in bekko and resulted in the sharp decline that occurred in the 20th century. Today, lack of information about sea turtles leads many tourists to unwittingly support the international trade in these endangered species. Buying, selling or importing any sea any sea turtle products within the United States, as in many countries around the world, is strictly prohibited by law, but turtle shell jewelry and souvenirs are still the most frequent contraband items seized by customs officials from tourists returning from the Caribbean. While illegal sea turtle trade is primarily based on Hawksbill, other sea turtle may be killed for their skin to make leather goods. Beauty products are also be illegal if they contain sea turtle oil.2
Species Affected: Hawksbill sea turtles are overwhelmingly affected by this issue. However, green and other species can be traded for their skins.2.
Despite laws protecting sea turtles in most countries, the illegal trade of eggs, meat, and shells (known as poaching) of turtles continues to be a threat. In many parts of the world, these animals are harvested for their meat and eggs which are used for human consumption and in some places are considered a delicacy. In many countries, the trade in turtle eggs is a big industry that provides income to many people.
In other parts of the world, including some island nations, sea turtles are used for ceremonial purposes. Their shells and skins are also used to make a variety of objects like jewelry, sunglasses, tourist trinkets, instruments, and wall hangings. The Hawksbill is particularly valued for its shell which is used for ornamental purposes.
Lack of enforcement and public awareness are particularly problematic when it comes to illegal trade. As trade occurs across borders between countries, monitoring illegal trade is sometimes impossible. Often illegal activities occur in remote areas and poachers are unable to be found and prosecuted or local officials are not motivated to enforce the laws. Educating local communities on the economic benefit of a live versus a dead sea turtle is essential to eliminating illegal trade.
Many conservation programs are underway worldwide implementing projects which bring more money to local communities in tourism dollars than they would receive from harvesting the animals.3
Courtesy of Sea Turtle Conservancy
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The Problem: Each year, more than 250,000 sea turtles are accidentally captured, injured or killed by U.S. fishermen. Many of these injuries and deaths take place while turtles are migrating through fishing areas. The turtles, attracted to the bait, get caught on the hooks used to catch fish.
As it stands, the global fishing fleet is currently 2.5 times larger than what oceans can sustainably support, which shows how big a threat commercial fishing practices pose to turtles. In 2004, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) identified more than 70 fisheries, operating in state and federal waters, as potentially harmful to sea turtles. Turtles are air-breathing reptiles. When they are caught underwater in nets or on lines, they drown if they are unable to reach the surface for air. They can also sustain internal injuries from hooks or external injuries from entanglement, including strangulation or amputation. The ropes used by fisheries can also entangle and drown them.
Species Affected: All sea turtles are affected by commercial fisheries. Loggerheads and leatherbacks have the greatest risk because of their feeding habitats.
The Solution: The use of Turtle Excluder Devices or TEDs, two-dimensional net inserts with large escape openings, in shrimp and other trawl net fisheries. Trawls are wide-mouthed nets that taper to a small end to hold the catch. Further, a shift by longline fleets, which positions miles of gear with one mainline and thousands of secondary lines and hooks, from "J" hooks to circle hooks to reduce the number and severity of sea turtle interactions with longline gear. Time and area closures have been instituted in the scallop dredge fleet and various gill net fisheries to protect sea turtles.
Beach activities and coastal development
Human use of nesting beaches can result in negative impacts to nesting turtles, incubating egg clutches and hatchlings. The most serious threat caused by increased human presence on the beach is the disturbance to nesting females. Night-time human activity can prevent sea turtles from emerging on the beach or even cause females to stop nesting and return to the ocean. Beach Furniture and other recreational equipment (e.g., cabanas, umbrellas, hobie cats, canoes, small boats and beach cycles) can reduce nesting success and increase false crawls on nesting beaches. There is also increasing documentation of nesting females becoming entrapped in beach furniture. Beach Driving, either at night or during the daytime, can negatively impact sea turtles. Night time driving can disturb nesting females, disorient emerging hatchlings, and crush hatchlings attempting to reach the ocean. Tire ruts left by vehicles can extend the time it takes a hatchling to reach the ocean and increase their chance of being caught by a predator. Driving during the day can cause sand compaction above nests resulting in lower nest success. Additionally, beach driving contributes to erosion, especially during high tides or on narrow beaches.2
Around the globe, sea turtles and their hatchlings fall victim to natural predators. Crabs, raccoons, boars, birds, coyotes and sharks all play their role in the natural food chain as sea turtle predators. However, the threats of predation increase when human development reaches nesting beaches. People who leave trash near the shore, for example, unwittingly call raccoons and other non-native species to the beaches to look for food. Nest predation can be a very serious threat. In certain “predation hot spots” on nesting beaches in the United States predation can exceed 50% of all nests laid. In Central America, many communities permit their domesticated dogs and cats to run free in coastal villages. These domesticated dogs, left unattended, can dig up several sea turtle nests in one night! With as few as one in 10,000 eggs reaching adulthood, the destruction of only a few nests can have a devastating effect on any sea turtle population. Dogs eat the eggs and hatchlings and, in some cases, can even attack adult females while they nest. While sea turtles have developed special adaptations that allow them to be agile in water, they remain clumsy on land. They are not fast enough, or agile enough to escape these predators. Unable to retract their heads and flippers into their shell, like land tortoises, sea turtles are very vulnerable to these invasive predators.2
Some smart suggestions by Sea Turtle Conservancy
Coastal development is a broad category which includes an array of human activities including beach front construction of homes, hotels, restaurants, and roads, often for tourism. Also included are things like beach re-nourishment, seawall construction, and near-shore dredging and oil platform construction. Half of the world’s population lives on or within 100 miles of a coastline and this number will likely increase dramatically in the next decade.
The human alteration of coastlines forces nesting females to use other beaches, changes the properties of nesting beaches, and contributes to the pollution of sea turtle habitat from runoff and wastewater discharge. Increased coastal populations result in increased recreation and beach going vehicles.
Seawall construction creates impenetrable barriers to nesting females and causes unnatural erosion of beaches. Boats and personal watercraft are responsible for large numbers of sea turtle injuries and deaths. As coastal populations increase, boating activities increase and collisions with sea turtles that must surface to breathe, are inevitable. In Florida, most sea turtle strandings are the result of collisions with boats.
In many important sea turtle hotspots around the world, such as Cancun, Mexico, tourism development has hurt conservation efforts more than they have helped. seeTURTLES recommends that travelers carefully research coastal hotels to make sure they are not impacting beach habitat and are supporting conservation efforts.3
Did You Know? (Courtesy of seeTurtles)