Marine turtle populations have declined drastically over recent years and now of the known 7 species, all are considered protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). By acknowledging the bleak situation we have created for sea turtles, multi-national programs have began to collaborate resources in an effort to protect the nesting grounds and ocean habitats needed for a recovery of marine turtle populations.
Many factors have contributed to the decline including the over harvesting of eggs, destructions of habitats, pollution, fishing nets, and contact with ocean vessels. These actions combined with the low survival rate of hatchlings due to predators, have escalated the need to provide a working program to address the situation.
In the Philippines and Indonesia, Green turtle eggs are being poached and collected at unsustainable record highs. Entire ecosystems deteriorate with the loss of sea turtles as eggs and even decaying hatchlings help provide nutrients to areas that lack other natural means of plant production. Also, marine grasses are dependent on grazing animals such as sea turtles, to maintain a healthy production of wide spread grass beds, as opposed to taller blades that block out sunlight to the ocean floor. These sea beds provide shelter and sustenance to many other marine animals and the decline of the sea turtle has consequences for them all.
Some species, like the Pacific leatherback, are at a critical level with fewer than 500 females coming home to nest on the beaches of Mexico and Costa Rica. Alongside natural threats, poaching appears to be the top cause of their decline. Because some females take 30 years to mature, the effects of over harvesting and fishing can take years to remedy.
Although sea turtles have struggled recently, many conservation groups are putting in time and resources to help their plight. A new agreement has been laid out to coordinate efforts to increase and protect turtle populations. 27 signatories to the agreement are giving a broader picture of efforts and accomplishments being put forth to meet population goals.
The United Nations Environment Programme’s, Douglas Hykle, states “Participating countries have made progress in many areas, but there is still room for improvement. Many have yet to clearly describe their resource needs and to mobilize sufficient funding for domestic implementation; and only a few are carrying the burden of supporting international coordination efforts.”
One effect of sea turtle conservation can be seen in the increase in population of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Though, down to just 700 nests in 1985, the Kemp’s ridley turtle has made a comeback thanks to efforts by the Mexican government to curb illegal harvests and lower the effects of shrimp trawlers.
Loggerhead turtles, off the coast of South Africa, have increased greatly over the past four decades with some 1,750 nests compared to a low of only 250. Loggerhead and other sea turtles are important because they have been known to carry as many as 100 different species of plants and animals in and upon their shells, being directly responsible for the survival of many different marine species.
Over the course of Earth’s history, many animals and plants have become extinct and it is only natural. Recently, though, dramatic changes created by humans are forcing the rapid decline in many vital species of marine plants and animals. As outlined above, many of these animals are vital to the health and future of thousands of other marine species. By acknowledging the problem exists, we can begin to address beneficial steps to change the course of current events. The Bali conference that is taking place shortly, will help to further examine the recent UNEP report about sea turtles and being to change the communication of participating countries and organizations.