By: Gabriel Rodríguez Rojas
Do oceanic reptiles exist?
In addition to the wide variety of fish and mammals that live on the ocean, sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles that live in tropical and subtropical seas around the world. They have a shell encapsulating their body, large flippers for swimming and no visible ears. Other turtles have a leatherback that have no particular shell formation but are still part of this family of sea reptiles. They feed on sea life with their beaks and live most of their life swimming. Although they spend most of their lives swimming, they have close ties to the land, particularly the beaches worldwide, since they come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand. They’ve been roaming the seas for about 150 million years without a worry in the world. But recent human intervention in their life cycles (around 100 years) has severely impacted their populations, even to the point where species have been wiped out. We, as the ignorant human species, impact the sea turtles with byproducts and direct effects of our actions.
Is it possible to drown a sea creature?
As part of our efforts for fishing, casting huge nets into the sea has become the norm. To do this, a ship would cast the net and move great distances to maximize the catch. This practice grabs anything and everything that is big enough to be caught in the net. Sea turtles are among those animals that get caught up inside the net. Since they’re air breathers, being dragged across huge distances without being able to catch a breath seems a little detrimental for them. To be more specific, they drown. When the net is brought up again into the boat, dead sea turtles are set aside since they’re not part of the catch of interest and tossed back into the ocean. Now imagine this daily practice by hundreds or even thousands of boats worldwide. It’s no surprise sea turtle populations are declining at a very fast rate. It seems that fisheries do not care about anything but profit; and a sort of ignorance prevails over real problems. This same unawareness is evident from the common phrase “out of sight, out of mind”, and it’s very important when it comes to our recycling and trash efforts.
Algae, straws, plastic bags, and jellyfish: What do they have in common?
Plastics are another source of indirect adverse effects on sea turtles. Discarding plastic bags, rigid plastics, and even straws can be a death sentence for these sea reptiles. Plastic bags mimic a jellyfish or algae in the sea, a typical meal for sea turtles. Imagine a hungry sea turtle looking at a plastic bag and going in directly for a beautiful meal. And it is the same case for the plastic straws floating around that are mistaken as algae. Guess what… Turtles, just like you and me, cannot eat plastic. This ingestion causes blockages leaving them unable to feed and resulting in starvation. Are you surprised? I sure hope not because the story with plastics does not end here. Another danger for them is ingesting any other type of hard plastic. This enters their digestive system and can rupture their internal organs. Even if they survive internal bleeding or temporary starvation, consuming plastics makes turtles unnaturally buoyant, meaning that they float without wanting to, slows their reproduction, and stunts their growth. Don’t believe me? Whatever, even people in power of a nation have a disbelief in our aggravating actions towards climate change, which is harming sea turtles too.
Does climate change affect sea turtles?
Let’s hit replay on the climate change products that are echoed through scholarly articles, newspapers, televised news, Instagram, Twitter, and many more. Sea level rise, stronger storms, changes in temperatures, and warming oceans are some ways in which the sea turtles are affected. The coastal beaches’ habitat is slowly being lost because of rapid erosion. With climate change, rising sea levels and stronger storms aggravate that erosion. Erosion means less sand, which means less area for the turtles to make their nests.
Changes in temperatures directly affect the gender of the hatchlings. In context, the eggs in the cooler and lower parts of the nest will become males, while the ones located in the upper and warmer parts will become female. Adding the overall warming temperatures, most of the hatchlings will become female, which means a threat to the genetic diversity of the hatchlings. The heating of the earth also harms the temperatures at sea. As the sea gets warmer, currents change and coral reef livelihood too. Sea turtles’ natural cycle relies on using ocean currents to move around their life. Now imagine being taken away to another area or having to swim against the current to be able to reach areas with prominent algae blooms. Rising temperatures also affect the coral reefs, where algae are located. Coral reefs are used to a specific type of temperature to survive and have a healthy & biodiverse environment. An imbalance begins when the temperatures get warmer and the coral reef overall health begins to decline. With the temperature switch, a chain of events begins which can result in less food (algae) for the sea turtles. Now that we’ve seen the indirect impacts of our actions, let’s not ignore some things that are directly affecting them.
Is there a balance in consumption?
The impact of sea turtles depends on the country, culture, and religious beliefs. Without attributing right or wrong to their practices, let’s indulge on what is happening to the sea turtles as a cause of human actions. Turtle meat and eggs are a source of food and income for different groups. Another practice is in religious ceremonies and medicine. Some cultures believe that these ancient creatures hold a vast array of powers and knowledge that can be harnessed through their corpses. Some countries make these practices illegal, which opens up the black market and high prices for the turtles. Imagine being a person who has access to these creatures and can make a big profit by selling just a couple of them. This would just be a big drive for the illegal trade of sea turtles! Whether it be for eating, healing or for a non-specific ritual, the overconsumption of these animals has a detrimental effect on their population. As with any other animal consumption practices, acquiring too much without letting their reproductive cycle take place means that the population would decline because there are not enough specimens to reproduce effectively. Do you know a little bit more of the impacts of you consumption? Because we’re going into the loss of sea turtle habitat.
Do you shoo away wildlife in their own habitat?
With the loss of impact, I’m referring to human presence on nesting beaches, and in the sea worldwide. That presence can be as simple as going to the beach, riding horses or ATVs, partying on the boat, construction, or even surfing. As with all other wildlife, their instinct drives them away from large predators or loud sounds. Therefore, if the animal senses that it is in danger, no efforts will be made to nest or even be close to the area. It seems that even just by bathing in the sea would be harmful for sea turtles. So, what can we do about it?
What can we do to protect sea turtles?
Let’s dive right in into solutions to help the sea reptiles!
- Buy from local fisherfolk – the local practices typically do not include big nets. Some use traditional fishing rods, which, as you can imagine, do not produce a bycatch for sea turtles. This is not true for all, so taking the time to investigate where the fish comes from and the practices for acquisition of the catch are essential for the benefit of sea turtles.
- Refuse plastic – this problem has been in many countries worldwide, and some implement zero plastic policies in different sectors. Nonetheless, the majority of places still do not enforce policies against plastic. Whatever your case may be, refusing a plastic bag, a straw, or recycling whatever plastic enters your home can be a grain of sand towards helping with the beach of a problem.
- Climate-friendly practices – you can look for any forum on the internet for exercises that help reduce your carbon footprint and help with the ongoing climate change efforts. The most logical suggestion on my part would be to go sustainable in terms of energy, water, and food. Use renewable energy for your home, sustainably acquire water, and eat from local sources.
- Try to find a balance – a balance for the consumption of sea turtles is essential for their survival, as with all other species being consumed. This doesn’t mean we must eliminate them from our diets, not perform rituals, or extract their medicinal properties… But being mindful that the act of consumption and the ongoing other problems significantly impact their livelihood.
- Mindful of your presence – Having a voice of reason and being mindful of the way one approaches an area has to be, in my opinion, an essential part of the way we live. Something as simple as entering the beach with soft music and not altering the area where I sit are practices out of respect for the environment. As an outsider, I’m not to shoo away the local fauna nor move around the sand where sea turtles might have laid their eggs. The same practice applies to the other things mentioned in the text. But overall, having consciousness in our presence makes a huge difference.
To summarize, sea turtles are being threatened by the ignorance of our consequences. Some are indirectly affected by the primary purpose of our actions, such as bycatch, plastic pollutio
n, and climate change aggravation. Other actions directly affect them, like consumption, trade, and our presence. There are solutions to help them thrive and maintain their existence in the world that requires us to be conscious of our actions. Finding a balance, going sustainable, and refusing plastics are just a few. Other creative ideas are beach cleanups or educating the local community.
Gabriel Rodriguez Rojas supports the company with an interdisciplinary role. Some of his key roles include the permaculture design, geographical analysis and visualization, drone aerial documentation, assisting in environmental studies, writing technical documents and articles, and translation support. He has a Master’s degree in GIS & Remote Sensing and has been working in the environmental Sector since 2014.