Do Sea Turtles Matter?
Updated: May 12, 2021
An Indian myth states that the survival of the sea turtle insures the survival of the planet: The earth rests on the back of three elephants, who stand on the shell of a giant sea turtle which swims in an infinite sea. It is believed that if the sea turtle disappears that the world will end.
Sea turtles have been living and thriving in our oceans for over 100 million years, but now they're in danger of extinction - largely because of changes brought about by humans mostly through harvesting them for food or perceived "health" benefits, and climate and environmental changes.
But why does it matter? Are sea turtles really that important to our species and our planet?
In a word: YES!
Sea Turtles In the Water
Sea grass beds are vital developmental and breeding grounds for many species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. And like our own lawn grass, sea grass needs to be constantly cut short to be healthy and to help it grow across the sea floor. Sea turtles graze on sea grass, cutting it short and making it hospitable to marine species - many of which are harvested for human consumption.
Sea Turtles Out of the Water
Very little vegetation grows on beach dunes and no vegetation grows on beaches because sand does not hold nutrients very well. Sea turtles use beaches and the lower dunes to nest and lay their eggs. They lay around 100 eggs in a nest, and lay between three and seven nests during the summer nesting season. Of course, not every nest will hatch, not every egg in a nest will hatch, and not all of the hatchlings in a nest will make it out of the nest.
All the unhatched nests, eggs, trapped hatchlings and egg shells are important sources of nutrients for the dune vegetation, allowing it to grow and become stronger. As the dune vegetation grows stronger and healthier, the health of beach and dune ecosystems become better. This results in stronger vegetation and root systems which help to hold the sand in the dunes, and helps protect our beaches from erosion.
All parts of an ecosystem are important: If you lose one, the rest will eventually follow. And sea turtles are a part of two ecosystems: the marine ecosystem, and beach and dune ecosystems.
If sea turtles became extinct, the marine ecosystem would decline as a natural resource for our food (think grilled fish or lobster at your favorite restaurant). And let's not forget all of the marine animals that count on marine vegetation for their survival.
If sea turtles became extinct, dune vegetation would not be strong enough to maintain the dunes, resulting in increased erosion. Our land, and certainly many homes, would be washed away. And most of us humans love to go to the beach, so it would be really sad if they were gone.
Besides, doesn't it make you happy to see hatchlings on the beach or big sea turtles in the ocean?
And by the way, the federal Endangered Species Act lists the green, leatherback, hawksbill, and Kemp's ridley turtle as endangered. The loggerhead is listed as threatened. This makes it illegal to harm, harass, or kill any sea turtles, their eggs, or hatchlings. It is also illegal to import, sell, or transport turtles or their products.
What Can You Do to Help Save the Sea Turtles?
Organize or join a beach clean up day;
Do not leave fishing line behind as they entangle many types of wildlife, including sea turtles;
Do not feed sea turtles as this encourages them to approach people in high traffic areas;
Never buy products made from sea turtles;
Turn off the lights! Keep beachfront lights off throughout the night from May to October as they can confuse sea turtles during the mating season;
Reduce the amount of fertilizers you use. Ordinary lawn and garden fertilizers wash into coastal waters killing plants and animals. Look for biodegradable alternatives and correctly dispose of used toxic chemicals;
Cutting down on single-use plastics! Cutting down on even some single-use plastics will add up to a lot! Consider using reusable straws like Duk Gear's DUKStraws.
If you see turtle hatchlings, leave them in their nest, or watch from a distance and allow them to crawl to the water on their own. Keep or turn all lights off.
If you see a sea turtle nesting, distance yourself and stay behind her, while staying quiet. Please do not use any lights, including flashlights, flash photography, and video equipment. And please don't put your hands on or near a turtle, as any distractions may frighten and disorient her, causing her to return to the ocean before completely covering and camouflaging her nest.