|photo courtesy of nationalgeographic.com|
Jupiter and I are adventurous explorers. But, we’re not the kind of daring extreme-explorers like those who first went to the moon or to the South Pole or who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. We are tame explorers who simply takes hikes to places both familiar and new, seeking out excitement all around us. Whether on the land or by the sea, we are always scanning the ground beneath us and the horizons beyond. Although we have seen many different species of freshwater turtles in ponds in our area, we have never had the opportunity to view the magnificent deep-diving turtles that live in the ocean.
There are seven different species of sea turtles, six of whom live in U.S. waters. These ancient reptiles are found world-wide, mostly living in warmer waters of the tropics and sub-tropics, although they have been known to live in cooler waters for shorter periods of time. Adult sea turtles are big animals, with species ranging from 2 to 7 feet in length, and from 70 to1200 plus pounds! Their shells can vary in shape and color, with all but the leatherback possessing scales of varying arrangements and numbers. Sea turtles have very slow metabolic rates which allow them to stay submerged for long periods of time---many hours in some species! But since they are indeed air breathing reptiles, they need to eventually surface to breathe air. They grow very slowly and can take 15-50 years to reach reproductive maturity. Only the females ever leave the water to return to land to lay eggs in the sandy shore at night. If allowed to live a natural life in the wild, it is thought that sea turtles can live well over 100 years!
Sadly, most sea turtles are listed as endangered or critical due to both natural and human-induced factors. As a result, only a very small percentage of hatchlings ever reach adulthood. Turtles have few natural predators, but hatchlings are vulnerable to predation by fish, crabs, shorebirds, dogs, and raccoons. Hurricanes and other severe weather events can wreak havoc on nests, often destroying the eggs.
But, of all threats to turtles, the ones created by humans can often be the most devastating. Artificial lights from condos, hotels, and homes along beaches can disrupt these nocturnal egg-laying turtles and confuse hatchling as to which direction to go toward the water. Another threat is marine pollution; oil and other chemicals can destroy sea turtles’ habitats and food, which consists mostly of sea grass. Turtles will often mistake trash, plastics, and helium balloons for food, and they can become entangled in litter such as lobster pots and fishing nets. Unable to reach the surface for air, the turtles may drown.
Many recent studies have also shown that climate change from global warming is dramatically affecting the marine environment. When any aspect of the ocean changes—from water temperature to food supplies—the entire ecosystem can be put at risk. Additionally, illegal poachers and countries that refuse to recognize the endangered status of these animals still hunt turtles for meat, leather, and shells.
Sea turtles have so much going against their survival. It is up to us to make an effort to save them. Considering the fact that turtles have lived on this planet for millions of years—longer than the dinosaurs—surely people must recognize that we must find a way to help them rebound, especially since we are the ones who have put their existence in peril.
Three things you can do to help sea turtles:
1. Read all you can about sea turtles! There are lots of groups out there with information about sea turtle conservation and ways you can help. Sharing your newfound information with others = educating! Educated people value wildlife.
2. Be a mindful consumer! Reduce your plastic trash, don’t use chemicals on your lawn, and say NO to helium balloons! We are all responsible here. Be aware of what you are buying and where it is ending up once you’re done with it. Ask yourself if the item you are purchasing is really worth all of that plastic packaging. Even if you end up making the purchase, tell the store manager that you’d prefer less plastic. Ask your family to use biodegradable fertilizers on the lawn and make sure everyone properly disposes of household and automotive oil products. Helium balloons often fly away and land in the waterways, so saying NO to helium balloons says that you care about our planet!
3. Report stranded sea turtles you might find on the beach! In the cold weather months, any sea turtles still in our area may become cold-stunned and will only come ashore if they are doing poorly. It is important to contact stranding professionals at the New England Aquarium (617.973.5247), Massachusetts Audubon (508.349.2615), or the local police department, whether the animal is alive or not, as data collected may help other sea turtles in the future. Remember that all sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act and should not be captured or harmed in any way. Calling on behalf of a stranded sea turtle is helping an endangered species!
For more information, visit:
Defenders of Wildlife
Mass Audubon Society
New England Aquarium
Sea Turtle Conservancy
WSPA –The World Society for the Protection of Animals