This initially started on yesterday’s post about Leatherbacks but I realized that it may be a lengthy read and should cover all of the sea turtles not just Leatherback turtles. I hope if I can raise a little awareness in the masses that if everyone just made one little difference, it could add up. Like the pass it on thing. I love the oceans and it’s creatures. I get an immeasurable amount of personal joy every time I dive. It keeps me sane in my otherwise crazy world I live in. I try to pick up trash every day that I dive, at least once. If I walk, I do not walk over trash to enjoy the beach. If I see fishing line under the water, we cut it off. I recently started finding a pretty shell, sea urchin shell or sand dollar that I could give to a young person as I come out of the water. Something cool they don’t find on the shore. Maybe it will peak an interest.
Just as you read this, if you dive, snorkel, boat, jet ski or somehow in one way shape or form enjoy the oceans, think about passing it on.
So why are sea turtles so endangered?
Oh just too many stupid, dumb assanine things that we could prevent on a much more needed higher level. So you see what side I am on? Let me count the ways…
1. At sea, they become entangled fairly often in longlines, buoy anchor lines and other ropes and cables. This can result in injury (rope or cable cuts on shoulders and flippers) or drowning. These ships set thousands of hooks on lines as long as 75 miles. WTF! The turtles are attracted to these lines by the chemical glow sticks placed on them. Tens of thousands of sea turtles die this way every year.
2. Then there is shrimp trawling. 55,000 sea turtles died annually in the US waters every year. It is a humongous waste of a way to fish. 80% of what is caught is considered to be waste. That means for every 1 pound of shrimp caught, 4 pounds is thrown away.
3. Harvesting of eggs by humans and animals. They are easy prey. Once the female returns to sea, raccoons, otters and even wild dogs can have a feast. Domestic dogs and pigs, which accompany human settlement, also are lethal predators of turtle eggs and hatchlings. Japan historically has been the largest importer of sea turtle products in the world. Between 1970 and 1989, Japan imported 1.5 million pounds (680 metric tons) of shell, which represents about 700,000 dead turtles.
The theft of eggs for local consumption is not currently a problem in Florida but continues in low levels in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Turtle eggs are used in traditional Asian medicines, and in most parts of the tropical world the eggs are an important part of local diets. Latin Americans covet sea turtle eggs as an aphrodisiac and energizing protein. To combat this , sea turtles lay a large number of eggs. This defense is breaking down under the pressure of increased human harvesting and disturbance of nesting beaches. In some areas people harvest nearly 100 percent of eggs immediately after they are laid.
4. Pollution – Leatherbacks have mistaken plastic bags, raw plastic pellets, plastic and styrofoam, tar balls and balloons for their natural food. Ingesting this debris can obstruct the gut, lead to absorption of toxins and reduce the absorption of nutrients from their real food.
5. Erosion of beaches – Leatherbacks prefer open access beaches possibly to avoid damage to their soft plastron and flippers. Unfortunately, such open beaches with little shoreline protection are vulnerable to beach erosion triggered by seasonal changes in wind and wave direction. A presumably secure beach can undergo such severe and dramatic erosion that eggs laid on it are lost.
6. Other sources of food – Humans have long hunted adult sea turtles for food and for their shells and other parts. In Indonesia, for example, shops are full of turtle souvenirs, turtle-skin bags, jewelry made from shells, and stuffed turtles, all of which are marketed to tourists. Sea turtles have suffered from the growing taste for turtle soup, considered a delicacy in Europe. In the Solomon Islands, hunting sea turtles, including leatherbacks, is considered an important cultural event.
When I was in the Corn Islands a few years ago, they had all but stopped serving the traditional run down soup with turtle in it. You can still get run down but rarely with turtle in it. I met many of these people who have next to nothing and it is a traditional food eaten for generations. They have very little in life but are rich with tradition. There were some “white people” who had raised aware and boycotted the selling of the meat and other items in their restaurants and stores. I find it good to listen while you are in other cultures. Not so much as what they say but how they say it. It is heart wrenching for me. I mean I sit down and offer a beer to a local lobster diver and a FDC(flor de cana rum) and they truly want to share with you. This lobster guy told me dive stories that would make you cringe. Up to 10 dives a day with crap tanks, not very safe and the oldest quality dive equipment I have heard of. No teeth, lots of wrinkles, looked about 70 but was a little older than me. I bought a tortoise shell cuff bracelet from him. He hand filed this from scratch. Took great pride in his work. It is a treasure that I hold higher than some of my nice gems. I also purchased two hand strung black coral necklaces. Kept one and gave one to my mom. Someone stole my dive gloves on Little Corn. I hope they got good use out of them.
7. Leatherback sea turtles are also killed to be rendered into oil for caulking boats in the Persian Gulf.
8. Beach lights – Baby turtles find their way to the sea by the light reflected off the ocean. Artificial lighting from buildings, streetlights, and beachfront properties has a disorienting effect on little turtles. The problem of beachfront lighting is not just limited to the baby turtles. Adult turtles can mistakenly move inland after egg laying, and females tend to avoid areas where beachfront lighting is most intense. Turtles also abort nesting attempts more often in lighted areas. Artificial lighting has had profound negative effects on nesting behaviour and success.
9. They are used in oil lamps in Papua New Guinea.
10. Leatherbacks are used for medicinal use in the Caribbean.
11. Beach armouring includes the building of sea walls, sandbag installations, groins and jetties. Such practices save structures and property from erosion, but ultimately result in environmental damage and loss of a dry nesting beach.
12. Beach cleaning – Pollution is bad on beaches and humans have been more active cleaning them. This sometimes prompts beach cleaning activity, such as raking and the use of mechanical equipment. Not only can existing nests be disturbed by beach cleaning, it can also result in compacted beaches that are difficult or impossible to use for nesting.
13. Oil & Gas digging – Activities associated with developing offshore oil and gas resources can destroy or seriously disrupt foraging habitat and nesting habitat. Dredging not only destroys habitat, it also results in the incidental injuring or killing of sea turtles. The presence of offshore structures alters the characteristics of nesting areas in ways that could well affect nesting habits.
The exploitation of offshore oil and gas reserves also leads to oil spills and the presence of tar in the water. Both of these pollutants have serious effects on marine turtles. Oil on the skin and shell of a marine turtle can affect respiration and salt gland functions, as well as the turtle’s blood chemistry. Let’s not even get me started on the BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico recently. I don;t buy BP gas, do you? The one good thing is that they did transplant a lot of those nests to this shore to try to eliminate unnecessary damage.
This is from May 2, 2010 after the spills
So what are we doing to help them? Well sea and animal lovers are getting more involved and volunteering. Up and down the coast of Florida there are groups that patrol and protect the beaches when it is nesting season. People like you and I can also talk to people on the shore about what we see and how absolutely awesome they are. Raise awareness. Plus we can help in times of crisis. There are some great folk locally who rally to help these guys make it safe to shore instead of across the road when lights interfere. I have been on the beach when a nest hatched during the day in the heat. Everyone starting scrambling to get these guys to shore without being eaten alive by the seagulls.
Here is a link to National Geographics video.
First, steps are being taken to reduce the deaths of sea turtles in fishing nets. Since 1989, federal regulations in the United States require the use of Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs, on shrimp trawl nets. TEDs are grates that allow shrimp to pass into the net while turtles escape through a trap door.
The TEDs have been shown to be very effective in saving sea turtles. Critics claim, however, that some shrimp trawlers wire the TEDs closed and there is no means of effectively enforcing the law.
Migratory or free-ranging species such as sea turtles require international agreements for conservation to be successful. The use of high-seas driftnets was made illegal in 1993 under a moratorium resolution passed by the United Nations.
Next, people are speaking out. Lights are being extinguished at night up and down the coasts of Florida.
he leatherback sea turtle is not easily kept in captivity. Because it is adapted to life in the open sea, the leatherback has no “reverse gear” and will repeatedly swim into any obstacle in its path, including the walls of a holding tank. Other sea turtles have fared better in captivity and perhaps breeding programs can improve their chances for survival.
They moved a lot of the Gulf Sea turtle nest during the oil spills to Cape Canaveral area for hatching.
The most successful sea turtle breeding program is on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean. Turtles now breed in tanks and lay their eggs on artificial beaches, where the eggs are collected and incubated to ensure maximum survival of hatchlings. The farm sells turtle meat, oil, livers, skins for leather, and shell for ornaments.
Critics of turtle farming contend that rather than reducing poaching, it merely feeds demand for turtle products.
Due to a critical error made by the founders, it appears that this turtle farm and others like it will never be a able to contribute any turtles to the wild. The farm was first started with wild turtle eggs collected from beaches all over the world. All these different subspecies and populations of turtles were mixed in the tanks. Biologists fear that later generations of interbred turtles may have lost characteristics necessary for survival in the wild.
Educating the public about the impacts of using exotic animal products is key to the survival of sea turtles. Japan has long been a major user of turtle products, refusing to agree to international bans on trade. Today, though, Japanese children are learning a different attitude toward sea turtles through bedtime stories. Japanese children are told an ancient Japanese folktale about the brave boy who rescues a sea turtle from abuse by other children. When the grateful turtle returns, the boy is handsomely rewarded for his compassion.