Happy World Turtle Day 2020
Friday, May 22, 2020
Let's shellebrate! This is a day when we can take a moment to consider the majestic marine turtles that occupy Australian Waters.
World Turtle Day was founded in 1990 to raise awareness of issues facing turtles around the globe.
There are seven species of marine turtles and each of them have an important role to play in the marine ecosystem. Flatback, Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley Turtles all live in Australian Waters.
Here are five facts about marine turtles to impress your friends with:
1. They have been around for an estimated 110 million years. Which means they once shared the planet with T-Rex and other dinosaurs.
2. The sex of the baby sea turtles is dictated by the tempreture. Warmer nests lead to more females and cooler nests lead to more males—which is why climate change could drastically affect their populations by creating too many females and too few males to match them for reproduction.
3. They have an excellent sense of direction. Sea turtles can detect the Earth's magnetic field and they use it as a compass.
4. They can hold their breath for five hours underwater. To accomplish this mighty feat they slow their heart rate to up to nine minutes in between heartbeats in order to conserve oxygen.
5. They cannot retract into their shell-like other turtles. Since they don't have to protect themselves from predators for most of their life on water, sea turtles cannot retract their flippers and head into their shells. Their anatomy makes them more agile when under the sea but highly vulnerable when nesting and hatching.
Sadly, these incredible creatures are facing many threats to their fragile populations, including; plastic pollution in the oceans, rising sea temperatures and impact from human activity on their nesting beaches.
Marine turtles are long-lived and slow to mature. Depending on the species, they can take anywhere between 8–50 years to reach breeding age. Due to the range of threats, at their different life stages, it is thought that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood and then return to the beach to nest.
For this reason, it is critical to address the range of threats throughout their lifecycle.
- Marine debris, particularly plastic and discarded fishing gear.
- Native and introduced animals predating (eating) turtle eggs and hatchlings.
- Vehicles compacting turtle nests or forming tyre ruts that trap hatchlings.
- Humans taking turtle eggs (poaching)
- Bycatch of marine turtles in fisheries.
- Impact to breeding habitat from coastal development and artificial lighting.
- Deteriorating water quality.
- Unknown and possibly unsustainable levels of turtle harvesting, in and outside Australian waters.
The dangers of marine debris and plastic on for sea turtles
Sea turtles were among the first marine animals recorded to eat plastic debris. This phenomenon occurs in most regions of the world and in all seven marine turtle species.
With millions of tonnes of plastic debris entering our world's oceans on a yearly basis, it is estimated that approximately 52 per cent of all sea turtles have eaten plastic.
More than 690 marine animals are reported to be impacted by pollution with turtles and seabirds arguably two of the groups of species most heavily affected.
Scientists from Australia’s CSIRO have found that once a turtle had 14 plastic items in its gut, there was a 50 per cent likelihood that it would cause death. However, that's not to say that a turtle won't die if they consume less than 14 pieces of plastic.
An analysis of about 1,000 turtles found dead on Australian beaches found hundreds of pieces of plastic in the animals' guts.
These included hard plastic fragments, balloons, lolly wrappers, pieces of rope and plastic bags.
In 2016, Dr Qamar Schuyler from the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences revealed that 34 per cent of sea turtles in Queensland’s Moreton Bay had ingested marine debris. He advised that the types of rubbish most commonly found inside the turtles are day-to-day consumer-generated debris such as food wrappers, packaging, plastic bags, fruit stickers and balloons.
Up to 12.8 million tonnes of debris enter the oceans every year and 80 per cent of the debris comes from the land. The majority of this debris is plastic – and it takes hundreds of years to breakdown.
Sea turtles think jellyfish are delicious. Leatherbacks and hawkbill turtles feed on jellyfish and keep their populations in check. Plastic looks like jellyfish when it's floating in the water and that's why so many turtles die from ingesting plastic—they were going for a tasty snack.
When some sea turtles eat plastic bags they end up with Floater Syndrome which commonly occurs when turtles mistake plastic pollution for food which becomes stuck in their digestive tract. The ingested plastic creates a build-up of gas in the turtle's system, causing them to float – meaning they can’t dive down for food.
- Say no to plastic! Go reusable! Bring your own water bottle, say no thanks to straws, BYO cups, cutlery, bags. Our Sea Shepherd e-store has many of these items for sale.
- Make sure you dispose of any rubbish responsibly.
- Think about ways you can reduce plastic in your everyday life – every piece counts.
- Pick up marine debris from the beach and waterways – join a local beach clean-up. Our Marine Debris Campaign holds monthly clean-ups all around the country. While these have been temporarily suspended due to COVID-19, follow our Sea Shepherd Australia’s Marine Debris Campaign Facebook page for updates about how and when you can join.
- Report turtle nests and predated turtle nests to your local ranger.
- Keep your dogs on a lead when walking on the beach during nesting/hatchling season.
- Drive slowly on beaches and avoid driving over nests. Drive on the wet sand below the high tide mark to avoid making wheel ruts.
- Report ghost nets to your local ranger.
- At night, minimise lights on the beach, including campfires.
Let’s shellebrate these remarkable creatures by informing ourselves, raising awareness and taking action to protect them. Together we can make a difference.
Happy World Turtle Day!
Learn more about our Sea Shepherd Australia Marine Debris Campaign or watch our video chronicling Sea Shepherd's forty years of defending, conserving and protecting turtles below.