Sea Turtles by the Numbers
The Danger Posed by Mankind
Accidental capture (called “bycatch”) in industrial fishing equipment is believed to be the greatest threat to sea turtles worldwide. About 40% of all animals caught in fisheries are thrown out as trash, usually dead. Longline fishing is to blame for the critically endangered status of the Pacific leatherback sea turtle; the turtles are inadvertently hooked and end up drowning. The Pacific leatherback population has declined by as much as 95% in the last couple of decades.
Even though every sea turtle species is officially listed as vulnerable or endangered (data is technically deficient on that seventh species, but it’s believed to be endangered), tens of thousands of turtles are legally killed each year. That’s because certain countries like Australia, Japan, and Mexico still allow the poaching of these animals, even though they live near the brink of extinction. The total tally of poached turtles is unknown — the black market doesn’t keep track of killings — but it’s likely that, including illegal poaching, over 100,000 sea turtles are killed each year worldwide. The reasons for poaching are arguably unjustifiable. Poachers either sell the hollowed shells for decoration or sell the turtle’s meat and eggs as food. In Central and South American countries, natives commonly consume vast amounts of turtle meat during the Catholic season of Lent, even though turtles are reptiles, not fish.
In the Pacific Ocean floats the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a large gyre approximately the size of Texas with debris extending 20 feet (6 meters) deep in the water. It’s estimated that this gyre contains 3.5 million tons of trash and could double in size in the next 5 years. Researchers have also estimated that for every 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of plankton in this area, there are 13.2 pounds (6 kilograms) of plastic. That’s astounding — and horrifying. And the Pacific Garbage Patch not the only one of it’s kind, there are others in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Hundreds of millions of sea turtles fall victim each year to entanglement in or accidental consumption of plastic pollution. Plastic bags are a prime culprit — easily mistaken by turtles as jellyfish, a favorite food. Americans alone use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wraps each year, and worldwide less than 5% of plastics are recycled.
Scientists predict that global warming could result in 20-30% of the Earth’s plant and animal species going extinct by 2050. Sea turtles are particularly vulnerable to changes in climate as a result of global warming. That’s because warmer temperatures of beach sand can result in complete nest failure, decreased hatching rates, or a disproportionate ratio of females to males. Why? Warmer sand temperatures tend to produce more female sea turtles, whereas cooler sand temperatures tend to produce more males. Warming oceans also alter currents that turtles use as migratory routes and displace the natural prey of sea turtles. Extreme weather patterns associated with global warming can disrupt nesting patterns or destroy nests altogether through erosion and flooding.
You Can Help Save Sea Turtles
You can help to eliminate fisheries bycatch by choosing seafood that is sustainable and fished according to regulations. Look closely at the foods that you buy, and do your research beforehand if you can. Better yet, cut down on seafood altogether — if you’re up to the challenge. Not all seafood is “bad,” but our oceans are under tremendous strain from industrial fishing as it is. If you can reduce the demand just a bit, it will make a difference. It might mean one less fishing boat out there, which might keep dozens of turtles from getting caught in nets.
Start a Conversation
Be the voice in your community to let others know the dangers that sea turtles are in. Use social media to put pressure on countries like Australia, Japan, and Mexico to outlaw sea turtle killing. With technologies like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, any voice — any idea — can be magnified and make real impacts. All the little things you do to help will add up. If we can spread the word and initiate action that conserves sea turtles species, we might just end up saving our oceans, too.
Reduce, Reuse, Recyle
Reducing what you take, use, and consume is your top priority — the less there is of a demand for something, the less supply that needs to be offered. The result is less trash in the oceans. So don’t take what you don’t need. Some things you will need, of course. But if and when you no longer need those things, re-purpose them, pass them along to someone else, or dispose of them responsibly. Try to recycle everything you can. Your grocery store probably will accept back your plastic bags. And on your next visit, bring a re-usable bag instead.
Invest in Things that Matter
In case you haven’t already heard, Vara Loka donates 20% of revenue from our Sea Turtles collection to World Wildlife Fund (WWF). To eliminate turtle bycatch, WWF persuades fisheries to use different types of hooks and nets to prevent turtles from accidentally being caught. WWF also works with coastal communities to cut down on turtle harvesting and egg collection. To do this they introduce to locals livelihoods that don’t depend on killing sea turtles. WWF also works with governments of nations across the world to establish protected marine sanctuaries where turtles and other species can nest, migrate, and feed safely. To read about everything else WWF does to protect turtles, read more here.