A view of our boat at Gaulin Reef in the Bahamas
The above portion is a summary done by the Caribbean conservation and sea turtle survival team of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and how it affects sea turtles. After reading this summary a person would most logically ask “why are sea turtles close to extinction if this act was made in 1973?” This is a very important question that several conservation groups are trying to point out. The fact is that in the last 20 years sea turtles have declined in population between 80-95%.
The Olive Ridley is an amazing sea turtle that can be found in the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean and parts of the Atlantic Ocean. In many parts of the Pacific the Ridley’s numbers have been increasing, but in the Atlantic the populations are decreasing dramatically. The turtle is very important for the ecological balance in the ocean mainly because its diet consists of crab, shrimp, lobster, sea grass, snails, and some small invertebrates. The Ridley can dive up to about 150 meters to hunt for its food. The Ridley is one of the smallest of the sea turtles with a carapace length of only about 27 inches.
The Ridley travels long and far to lay its eggs. 50 thousand Ridley’s will occupy a single beach front to lay eggs. Each Ridley lays about 110 eggs which total about 5.5 million eggs. This event happens over 3 days in which thousands of turtles appear from the water onto the beach. This event has been named the Arribada by the Spanish. The turtles are able to locate these beaches by using the location of the sun and magnetic signals. They will often travel hundreds or thousands of miles to locate a beach.
The problem with the Olive Ridleys reproduction method is that predators including birds, dogs and the most dangerous, humans know exactly when and where the event will take place. This causes a mass killing of juvenile turtles, eggs and adult turtles. People have come from all over the world and at some of the beaches 100% of the eggs were taken. In 1990 governments around the world banned the stealing of sea turtle eggs on Arribada, but it was too late. Three of the four major Arribada beaches were already completely diminished (Spotila 138). People used the Olive Ridleys for livestock feed, lether, potions from their blood, and for fishing bait. The dilemma involved with outlawing the harvesting of the Olive Ridleys eggs is that countries like Costa Rica rely heavily on egg poaching to keep their economy strong. Costa Rica has attempted to only allow harvesting to occur during the first 36 hours of Arribada, but this has not been successful because the beaches are not guarded well enough for the remaining days of reproduction. The Olive Ridley has proven to be very resilient when one beach in Mexico completely recovered its population. This was only able to happen because the beach was well guarded. The Olive Ridley can survive and strengthen its population but they are going to need help from people. There are four major Arribada beaches left in the world and if those beaches are well protected the Olive Ridley will most likely survive.
The most infamous turtle for being aggressive and dangerous is the Loggerhead turtle. Archie Carr speaks of a story where 5 men attempted to catch this turtle in a row boat, but the gigantic 610 pound beast flipped over their boat and injured all five men. This story may seem far fetched but the Loggerhead is definitely capable of doing something like this if its life was in danger. Loggerhead turtles have strength in numbers compared to many other turtles in the world, but this does not mean they are still not threatened by people. They are fished, but not as often as other turtles because their meat does not taste as good. Loggerheads cover more of the world than any other turtle, and have a strong population in parts of Southern Florida. What is killing the Loggerhead turtles are irresponsible fishers. Loggerhead turtles do not become fully reproductive adults until they are between 25 and 35 years old. It is difficult for a Loggerhead turtle to make it to this age because of the several threats that humans place upon them.
Dimitris Margaritoulis has been one of the most important figures in conserving the Loggerhead turtles. The Loggerhead turtles beaches were being destroyed quickly in the Mediterranean due to development. This is a very important area for Loggerhead turtles to reproduce, and they were not able to because of damaged beaches. Dimitris played a huge role in keeping several of the beaches in the Mediterranean pristine. While what he was doing was great for the Loggerhead and several ecosystems, Dimitris and many of his project members were assaulted and hospitalized for doing this. People who wanted to build along the beaches that Dimitris ordered to be pristine grew very violent because they felt as if he was hurting their businesses. Turtle information buildings were burned down and many people were severely injured. Dimitris did not let this stop his operations and he was soon able to get other countries around the world involved in keeping beaches pristine for the Loggerheads.
Many people do not realize how important these turtles are for the ocean. First of all it is a carnivore so it feeds on several different invertebrate species and helps keep crap and shrimp populations in check. The Loggerhead is also a home for over 100 animal species. Algae and Phyla attach to the turtles shell along with different types of crabs that live inside the shell itself. These crabs are important for ocean ecosystems because when they leave the turtles shell they are often eaten by many fish species. The Loggerhead is making good strides to stay alive, but this is only because they have been protected so well. Still thousands are killed each year and at the rate at which things are going their future is still uncertain.
Who is keeping these sea turtles alive? There is not one but many answers to this question. There are people all around the world who have devoted their lives to keeping sea turtles alive. The present “face of sea turtle conservation” is Peter Pritchard. He began a conservation program that was centered around local villagers. He always believed locals who live the closest to the sea turtles must be the first to understand why conservation is important. He understood that sea turtles were a very important food source for people all around the world, but he was able to work with governments and provide alternate food sources such as chicken for people who used to rely on turtles. He was able to make it culturally unacceptable in many countries around the world to poach and harvest eggs. He has played a huge role in saving the Loggerhead Turtle.
Pritchard inspired so many people around the world, and many people saw what he was doing and decided to do the same. Projecto TAMAR is currently one of the world’s largest sea turtle conservation projects. The organization was formed in 1980 in Brazil. Projecto TAMAR has been successful mostly because of Maria Angela Marcovaldi who is president of the foundation. Today Marcovaldi has made it possible for sea turtles to live in several areas around the world. She has helped create 20 stations associated with conservation that stretch about 660 miles along beaches across the world. The goal of the group is to find local people who rely on sea turtles, and draw them into conservation. TAMAR tries to build strong economies for cities without making sea turtles a large part of peoples livelihoods. They have raised money to create tee-shirt factories that provide jobs for locals and help the economy. TAMAR shows how governments and people can work together to help save sea turtles.
Ultimately, the fate of sea turtles does not look promising. It seems unfair that the amount of time and effort people put into saving these turtles may only just delay the inevitable of them becoming extinct. While sea turtles seem to be fighting to stay alive, it seems as if too many people are fighting even harder to kill them. There are too many factors working against the turtles, and the small number of conservation groups can not stop them all. If sea turtles keep dying off at the current rate there is no chance that they will be on this earth much longer. The conservation groups that are fighting for the turtles are doing the right thing, but more help is needed. There are too many countries that will not save the sea turtles, and for sea turtles to survive international cooperation will be vital.
Spotila, James. Sea Turtles: A complete guide to their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation John Hopkins University, 2004
Carr, Archie: So Excellent a Fishe: A Natural History of Sea Turtles Cassell: London 1968
Fredrick, Davis, 2005, Saving Sea Turtles: the evolution of the IUCN
Marine Turtle Group. Endeavour. Vol 29, Issue 3, Pg. 114-118
Carr, Archie and D.K Caldwell: The ecology and migrations of sea turtles. Results of field work in Flordia 1973
Davidson, Osha Gray. 1998. The Enchanted Braid: Coming to terms with nature on the coral reef. Canada: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Caribbean Conservation Corporation And Sea Turtle Survival League. http://www.cccturtle.org/satellitetracking.php
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