Sea Turtles – what will it take to save them?


Staci-Lee Sherwood works at Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, Highland Beach Sea Turtle State-wide Morning Survey Program and Sea Turtle Rescue/Research & Ocean Conservation projects (USA)

Sea Turtles have been around about 150 million years and unlike the dinosaurs have managed to survive….so far. Their struggles begin in the nest, which is sometimes filled with trash and fishing line, and so many of the hatchlings are stuck and in need of rescue as newborns.  As they crawl to the top of the nest and attempt to make their way to the ocean they are often bombarded with bright artificial lights from the shore that confuse and disorientate, causing them to race toward the light instead of the ocean.  In Florida alone thousands of newborn sea turtles die each season because of light disorientation when they are only a few hours old and all of this is human caused and preventable. We are trying to change that.

If they manage to get to the ocean, a host of hungry predators are waiting to snack on them.  During their lives they must avoid becoming a meal while at the same staying clear of plastic, chemicals, oil, trash, boats, fishing hooks, fishing nets or killed for their shells and meat, etc.  Roughly 86% of all Sea Turtles have plastic in them which is more than any other marine animal.  Normally these animals can live as long as humans but their life is a constant 24/7 struggle.  As the ocean heats up and becomes more toxic not only are they effected directly but also indirectly as their food supply vanishes due to overfishing and disease. The increased ocean temperature creates a good host environment for bacteria and disease to spread. Then we have the oil spills, which coats them and causes them to die a slow death as they are suffocated by the oil or killed by the chemicals dumped into the ocean after a spill. Either way, Sea Turtles that swim into an oil spill rarely swim out and survive.

Unfortunately for the Sea Turtle they are a migrating species that travel and nest all over the globe. While this migrating can offer better feeding when an old feeding ground becomes depleted it also means more danger. Sea Turtles may have protection here in the U.S. but they don’t have much protection elsewhere in the world where they are still openly hunted for their meat and shell. Once they swim out of protected waters into international waters they become fair game to any fisherman. This problem is also true for other endangered marine animals like Sharks, Whales and Dolphins. Monitoring is abysmal at best and education is done piecemeal. As is the case with so many things, few step back to see the big picture, which is why truly affective conservation methods are few and far between.

Nesting females mature at about age 20 years, leatherbacks a bit sooner, and return to their natal beach to lay their eggs. Coastal development and beach erosion is destroying their habitat which further complicates their survival. These gentle endangered creatures will only continue to survive and share our world if we allow them space to live and nest. As we continue to develop the beaches, dump chemicals into the ocean and deplete the ocean of every fish, the sea turtle’s struggle for survival is questionable.

So what can someone do to help save them from what seems like an endless gauntlet of potential disasters? For starters stop using plastic. One of the biggest problems we are finding in dead post-mortem hatchlings is they have stomachs filled with plastic instead of food. This can also be said for most marine life including shorebirds. Not only is plastic polluting the ocean but the manufacturing of it is incredibly toxic and since it’s a by-product of fossil fuels the demand for plastic keeps us drilling for more oil. In fact more oil is used in the production of plastic than it is refined for gasoline for cars. That’s how serious a problem it is, but anyone can help by switching from plastic bags to reusable ones. Use a stainless steel thermos instead of plastic and never ever litter.  Giving up seafood to let the fish population try to recoup from the daily onslaught will really help because commercial fishing kills untold numbers of ‘non target’ species like Sea Turtles. Trawlers, long line hooks and nets that go on for miles have already devastated huge areas of the ocean which is in dire need of a break. Many ocean conservationists have made the choice to drop the plastic and give up seafood for the sake of the ocean, myself included. Beach cleanings are critical and very easy to arrange and in fact anyone can go out and pick up the trash, of which there is always a lot of. Supporting clean sustainable energy like wind and solar and moving away from oil and coal will help curb the acid rain created by coal fired power plants which is warming the ocean and making it very acidic and toxic. (Note on acid rain from Staci-lee – see below)

Just by doing these simple and not so simple things we can turn the tide not only for the Sea Turtle but also for the ocean. If we fail to act now it won’t just be the Sea Turtle we will be losing. For the past 6 years I have been researching and rescuing Sea Turtles so I speak from personal experience in the field and things are even worse than I’ve described. We really are at that tipping point. We hold their future in our hands and unless we get serious about global conservation of the species these living fossils will no longer be living, they will just be fossils….like the dinosaur.  For more information about how you can help save Sea Turtles here are a few noteworthy links: – Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, we rescue disorientated hatchlings and make sure they get into the ocean instead of dying in the road from light pollution. – Save our Sea Turtles, volunteer program in Tobago working to save one of the biggest Leatherback nesting grounds in the world from poachers. – Sea Turtle Conservancy, working in the U.S. and Costa Rica to save habitat. – Sea Turtles Forever, a volunteer program in Costa Rica helping locals switch from poachers to protectors.


(Acid Rain) About acid rain and warming the ocean, I was referring to both oil and coal which contribute to the ocean’s problems differently. Acid rain is caused by the release of nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide from coal fired plants which causes the acidification of the ocean which has already happened. Burning fossil fuels and the entire process of drilling and refining oil creates heat in simple terms which warms the atmosphere and stratosphere and raises the core temperature of earth, including that of the ocean which is about 2 degrees warmer. It also releases carbon dioxide which further adds acid to the ocean. Acid rain also destroys forests and there is thinking that with fewer forests (which help shade and cool the earth) that too is causing ocean warming. The release of these chemicals from both coal and oil causes a thinning of the ozone layer and expansion of the 3 existing holes – this allows more UV rays to get through which causes a rise in the core temperature. Finally not only coal and oil but all pollutants we release hover around the earth like a layer of toxins, they don’t evaporate or disappear they just stay in the atmosphere forever which also creates warming. So yes, both coal and oil cause ocean acidification and warming… which is unfortunate since we are addicted to both.  

Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman is the Conservation editor and also the Underwater Videography Editor for Jeff is an award winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

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