Are Sea Turtles Endangered?
Sea turtles aren't just majestic, they're also vital to the health of the planet's coastal and marine ecosystems. But are sea turtles endangered, and which species are most at risk?
Sea turtles are ancient—like, 110 million-years-old ancient. The reptiles are an integral feature in our planet's oceans, where they contribute to marine and coastal ecosystems. And though they enjoy a long, long history, sea turtles face many natural obstacles, and out of 10,000 hatchling turtles, only about 1,000 survive. But are sea turtles endangered?
In addition to the threats that come courtesy of the wild, the greatest risks to the sea turtle's long tenure are human-caused and include climate change and plastic pollution.
Here’s everything you need to know about what's threatening sea turtles, and what you can do to help.
Are Sea Turtles Endangered in 2023?
There are seven species of sea turtles found in our oceans. Unfortunately, nearly all species are currently classified as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered.
Sea Turtle Species and Current Status
- Leatherback Turtle: Vulnerable
- Green Turtle: Endangered
- Hawksbill Turtle: Critically Endangered
- Loggerhead Turtle: Vulnerable
- Olive Ridley Turtle: Vulnerable
- Kemp's Ridley Turtle: Critically Endangered
- Flatback Turtle: Vulnerable
While some of the species are more at risk than others, all seven species of sea turtles are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
What Is Threatening Sea Turtles?
1. Climate Change
Climate change warms the planet, raising the temperature of the sand in turn. Shifts in sand temperature impact the sex ratios of sea turtles and can lead to a higher egg mortality rate.
Fisheries are one of the largest threats sea turtles currently face. Many turtles are accidentally captured, and nearly 40% of turtles of those are either killed or injured before being released.
In addition, turtles are often caught in discarded fishing gear like nets and longlines, causing them injury and death.
There are over five trillion pieces of plastic currently in our oceans. Sea turtles often mistake this plastic for food, leading to choking and internal injuries.
Chemical and light pollution has also been found to disrupt the nesting process and weak sea turtles’ immune systems.
4. Coastal Development
Coastal development destroys marine habitats, including those of nesting turtles. Uncontrolled development along the shoreline also leads to more beach traffic, which disturbs sea turtle nests and negatively impacts the hatching process.
What Would Happen If Sea Turtles Went Extinct?
You may be wondering what, if anything, would happen if sea turtles were to go extinct. Sea turtles play a vital role in maintaining dune vegetation and generally helping the marine ecosystem flourish. When turtles lay their eggs, they provide nutrients to the sand and dunes, protecting the beach from erosion. That would mean we would have to say goodbye to the structural integrity of beaches as we know them.
Turtles are also scavengers that help break down plant materials and turn them into protein. If sea turtles were to become extinct—specifically green turtles, who feed on seagrass—essential underwater plant life would die off, affecting the surrounding marine life.
How Can We Help Sea Turtles?
Many environmentalists and conservation groups are working hard to save and recover sea turtle populations. Even if you don’t live near a beach or in an area with sea turtles, you can still make changes that will help these beautiful marine animals thrive.
1. Reduce Your Waste
Plastic bags, nets, and debris are major threats to sea turtles. By reducing the amount of trash that you produce, you’re helping to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in our oceans.
2. Ditch the Balloons
Balloons may be considered fun, celebratory accessories, but they often end up in oceans where they can harm sea turtles, who can mistake them for food and consume them.
3. Stick to Reusable Items
In case we haven't made it abundantly clear, plastic is bad for turtles. Swap your straws, plastic bottles, shopping bags, and other single-use plastics for a reusable alternative.
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