Sea Turtle Conservation
Sea turtles are one of the Earth's most ancient creatures, having appeared on earth millions of years before humans. The sea turtle's shell, or "carapace" is streamlined for swimming through the water. Unlike other turtles, sea turtles cannot retract their legs and head into their shells. Their color varies between yellow, greenish and black depending on the species. Sea turtles are found in all warm and temperate waters throughout the world and migrate hundreds of miles between nesting and feeding grounds. Most sea turtles undergo long migrations, some as far as 1400 miles, between their feeding grounds and the beaches where they nest. Sea turtles once roamed the oceans by the millions, but over the past few centuries human activity as well as the demand for sea turtle meat, eggs, shell, leather and oil has greatly reduced their numbers.
There are seven species of sea turtles: Green, Kemp's ridley, Olive ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Flatback and Loggerhead. All except for the Flatback turtle are endangered or threatened and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Leatherback turtles are critically endangered. According to “Animals on the Edge”, recent estimates suggest the global population may be as low as 34,000 nesting females. Also, it is suggested that Leatherbacks have disappeared completely from parts of their former range and numbers are falling so rapidly they could be extinct by 2030. The Hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley turtles are also listed as critically endangered. The endangered hawksbill, a relatively small turtle, has been hunted to the brink of extinction for its beautiful shell. Once fairly common in Florida, these turtles now nest here only rarely (Frazier, 1999). Animals on Edge, states that the number of nesting Kemp’s ridley females has declined from about 700 to a low of about 350 in 1989. Olive ridley, Green and Loggerhead sea turtles are the three species that are listed as threatened. Although one of the more numerous of the turtle species, the olive ridley is still endangered with estimates that as many as 120,000 turtles have been killed in the last decade (Animals on Edge, 2007). Globally, green sea turtles have declined by at least 37 percent and possibly over 70 percent during the last 140 years (Oceana, 2012). Green turtles have been hunted for centuries for their meat and gelatinous "calipee" that is made into soup. Hunting and egg gathering have reduced their number greatly. Loggerhead turtles are the most abundant of all the marine turtle species in U.S. waters. But persistent population declines have kept this wide-ranging sea goer on the threatened species list since 1978 (Barret et al., 2000).
These sea turtles are listed as either endangered or threatened because, to different degrees, their populations have declined largely as a result of human activities. They have been prized worldwide as meat for human consumption, their eggs consumed or used as aphrodisiacs, their oil used for lubricants and ingredients used in cosmetics, and their shells used for jewelry and eyeglass frames (National Research Council, 1990). Even with protection under the Endangered Species Act, uncontrolled harvesting, plundering of nests and mortality incidental to activities such as commercial fishing continue to be the main cause of population declines around the world. Other factors that are contributing to the decline of sea turtle populations include: ingestion of or entanglement in marine debris, pollution, coastal development, shrimp trawling, poaching, vessel strikes, climate change and predation by invasive species. Sea turtles are important in the marine ecosystem. If they went extinct, the marine ecosystem would be negatively affected. For example, sea turtles, especially green sea turtles, are one of the very few animals to eat sea grass. Like normal lawn grass, sea grass needs to be...