Sea turtles are a group of turtles that inhabit the oceans of the world. There are seven species of sea turtles and five of these are listed as critically endangered (hawksbill sea turtle, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and leatherback turtle) or endangered (loggerhead sea turtle and green sea turtle) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one is listen as vulnerable (olive ridley sea turtle), and one is listed as possibly vulnerable (flatback sea turtle), but unable to be accurately assessed. Let’s find out why these marine turtles have been listed as endangered.
There are a number of reasons that sea turtles are endangered and many of these are caused by humans. One of the most common reasons for the population decline is commercial fishing. Turtles are often caught on long lines or in fishing nets. In particular, fishing nets are a major problem because turtles need to come to the surface to breathe and the nets can prevent them from doing this. For the survival of marine turtles it is extremely important that changes to commercial fishing (such as using larger hooks and nets that allow turtles to escape) take place.
Turtles were once hunted by humans for their decorative shell, meat and eggs. This put considerable pressure on their numbers. Even though marine turtles are protected throughout much of their range today, a black market in turtle shell, meat and eggs is still in existence.
Human development of beaches is also a threat to these turtles because they return to the same beach to nest each breeding cycle. In this situation humans may even have an impact without knowing it as they may damage a nest while walking on the beach. Strong lighting along the beach can also disrupt the sense of direction for hatchlings and they can become disorientated!
Sea turtles are also threatened by natural circumstances. Even though they usually lay hundreds of eggs on average only a single hatchling will make it to the adult stage! Some animals, such as jaguars, also threaten the sea turtles while they are nesting. The eggs are vulnerable to other animals while they are in the sand and the hatchlings are also preyed upon by many animals before they even make it to the sea!
The main efforts for conserving sea turtles revolve around introducing more sustainable fishing practices and discouraging the trade in sea turtle products. There are also a number of organizations that carefully remove the eggs from the nest and move them to less vulnerable areas or hatch them in controlled conditions.