If 1000 eggs are laid by a female sea turtle, 20 would typically survive to breeding age without human interference, but only 2 would make it to breeding age with human interference. It is no wonder why for more than 30 years all six species of sea turtles have been listed on the threatened or endangered species list in the United States.
After researching into the efforts of local initiatives maintaining Florida’s sea turtle populations, I have concluded that an initiative, sets a strong example to residents and other businesses of the importance of environmental stewardship while making local progress, however, they lack the outreach and support to make long-term or far reached change in behaviour. The most pressing need is for sea turtles to increase in population, and the only way to do so is to minimize the effects of human behaviour. An initiative could be deemed successful if there are overall more turtles being produced and also surviving until breeding age. This can be measured through use of a tagging system, through observing the number of adult breeding females, or the number of nests per km of beach.
The first initiative that I evaluated was the Loggerhead Marinelife Center located in Palm Beach County, Florida. For the past 37 years, their research team has monitored a 9.5-mile beach where over 16,000 nests are formed each nesting season, documenting all sea turtle activity to establish a baseline for normal nesting and hatchling production. The data collected assists other initiatives to make more educated decisions to promote the reproductive success of turtles. As well, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center has implemented a balloon ban initiative which has now spread to fourteen different municipalities in Florida to prevent balloons from making their way into the ocean. Sea turtles will mistakenly digest the deflated balloons, or other plastic bags, as they resemble their common food source, the jellyfish. Further, in 2016, they implemented the Trash Free Seas initiatives where they recycled over 75 miles of fishing line from the ocean and over 17,000 pounds of debris from local beaches. Another branch of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center is their rehabilitation hospital, where they recused 700 hatchlings and saved over 50 sea turtles in 2016 alone.
The second initiative I researched was the Sea Turtle Conservancy, which is based out of Gainesville Florida. One of their focuses has been a beachfront lighting retrofitting project. After emerging from their nests, hatchlings are to find the ocean by following the brightest light. At one time, this used to be the reflection of the moon and stars over the ocean, but due to bright white lights emitting from beachfront properties, 100,000 young hatchlings are crawling inland or rather in circles in confusion along Florida coasts each year. Therefore, the sea turtle conservancy has been replacing lights and fixtures along the Florida coast to ensure they are considered sea-turtle friendly. This requires all fixtures to be low hanging and have a shield so that the bulb, lamp or glowing lens is not visible from the beach. As well, the lights must have a wavelength greater than 570 nanometers, as sea turtles are less disturbed by yellow, red or amber lights. Since 2010, the Sea Turtle Conservancy has retrofitted 161 homes and condominiums and darkened over 20 miles of beach. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is also involved in a Loggerhead tracking project. A satellite transmitter is attached to each loggerhead and each time the turtle surfaces for air, the transmitter will send a signal to an orbiting satellite. This project, which has been in effect since 2010, is meant to collect data about the turtles’ migratory behaviour.
While both of these initiatives have been a success, they are failing to consider that in the United States, one of the largest sources of mortality is the incidental catch of sea turtles in commercial fisheries. With the implementation of a turtle excluder device (TED), a grid of bars sewn into the net, there could be a 97% reduction in the number of turtles caught in trawl nets. The TED device would deflect turtles to an escape flap while allowing smaller fish through to the back of the net. However, only half of the shrimp fishermen are currently required to use this device and any boats targeting fish other than shrimp have no requirements.
An increase in CO2 emissions will also negatively affect sea turtles, as a rise in sea level will result in the disappearance of nesting beaches. Hurricanes and other tropical storms will also wash away or flood nests. This becomes problematic as sea turtles return to the beach where they hatched, decades later, to lay their own eggs. As well, since sand temperature determines the gender of the hatchlings in the nest, a 2?C increase in sand temperature, from the ideal temperature of 29?C which produces a 50:50 male to female hatchling ratio will result in a nest of only female hatchlings. Without male sea turtles, the reproduction of sea turtles will stop entirely. Lastly, sea turtles food source, coral reefs, are becoming limited due to the effects of bleaching.
Now that sea turtles are endangered we have to wonder how it got to this point. Part of the issue stems directly from the fact that everyone failed to anticipate the problems before they arrived. Humans had no prior experience or knowledge of sea turtles to know which of our actions will directly interfere with the breeding and migration patterns of sea turtles. There also continues to be a failure to solve the problem due to clashes of interest. For example, fishermen are not purchasing TED devices, when it is not a requirement or they know it is poorly enforced. They are not willing to sacrifice a 2-3% decrease in catch to do the morally correct act of saving sea turtles lives. As well, with the new threats resulting from an increase in CO2 emissions becoming known, this problem is beyond anyone’s current capabilities to solve even with drastic action, and the world’s cooperation. Any efforts, would not only be expensive but could still fail.
If we want sea turtles to survive, we need much more action then that of local initiatives. While they have made a significant local impact, through maintaining or increasing the number of sea turtle nests, setting a strong example of environmental stewardship, there are many larger problems beyond their capabilities to solve unless they merge efforts with government authority figures and worldwide climate change scientists. Only then could sea turtles survive for another 150 million years. Thank you!