Sea turtles have inhabited the world’s oceans for more than 100 million years but are now an endangered species. There are seven different species that survive today, and they are found in all of the major oceans apart from the polar ones. Their favourite habitats are in the waters over continental shelves. In the first five years of their life they reside in shallow waters within seaweed mats that offer both food and shelter. In later life they make their way closer to the shore with females using the dry land to bury their eggs during the nesting season. They can grow to massive sizes, weighing up to 1500 pounds, and they can live up to 50 years of age. They remain sexually reproductive for between 20 and 30 years so their rate of reproduction is not a real problem. The danger is the speed at which they are being removed from the planet.
It has been estimated that 90% of all Eastern Pacific Leatherback turtles have disappeared in the last 30 years. One of the major problems is that the turtles are caught in fishing nets when trawler men are targeting other species of fish. Around 5000 turtles a year are lost as a result of being mistakenly caught. The sea turtles for centuries have had special relationships with coastal communities. Many of these communities have come to depend on the turtle as a valuable food source eating both the flesh plus the eggs that have been buried on the land. When the Philippine authorities on Turtle Island tried to protect the endangered green turtle, they persuaded the local villagers from harvesting the creatures. The area is now a Turtle Island Heritage Protected Area and although the locals still fish the turtle for their own survival they do so in a sustainable manner.
The real problem in this area however comes from poachers who are supplying the turtles to large overseas markets. In September 2007 several Chinese poachers were apprehended by the authorities while in possession of 100 turtles and 10,000 sea turtle eggs. The scale of this type of removal is what the puts the species at risk. Of all of the different species of sea turtle one of the most endangered in the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. The turtle is found mainly along the Texas coastline and on the Caribbean coastline of Mexico. In recent years their numbers have decreased dramatically as a result of over fishing plus being caught up in Shrimper’s nets.
Wildlife officials in 2007 released 11,000 eggs on the Texas beaches, and during the same year record numbers of naturally produced eggs were found in the area with 128 nests being found in the area of Padre Island. The Sea turtle for centuries has coped well with both natural and man-made threats to their survival. Their ability to reproduce quickly has resulted in lost stocks being effectively replaced. This has ensured that the creature has made a significant impact on the ecosystem that it resides in.
The burying of 100s of thousands of eggs along dune systems results in many nutrients being added to the weak soils. This has resulted in grasses surviving which in turn has stabilised the dunes. Man has also benefited as the diet of the Leatherback turtle includes the box jelly fish whose sting is poisonous to humans. Keeping the population down to a minimum has been to the benefit of visiting tourists. There is no real reason why the sea turtle can survive alongside man. If governments can work together and protect the natural environments favoured by the creatures, then the future of the sea turtle will be a healthy one.