From loggerheads to leatherbacks, turtles are ancient mariners that have survived the test of time. But now more than ever, human activities are testing their ability to survive. Today, nearly all species of sea turtles are endangered as a result of habitat destruction, climate change, poaching, and accidental entanglement. But there are a number of steps that you can take to protect these stunning creatures.
According to Kelly Thorvalson, the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program Manager, historically the biggest threats to sea turtles have been commercial fisheries and habitat destruction along the coast, but in recent years, other threats are becoming more of an issue.
“Ocean pollution is at its highest ever and more and more turtles are turning up with plastic in their guts,” says Thorvalson. “Rising sea levels are also becoming a threat as is ocean acidification which may thin the shells of crustaceans that turtles feed on.”
If you love sea turtles as much as we do, why not take some simple steps to protect them?
1. Cut out the plastic
Sea turtles can’t tell the difference between a plastic bag and a jelly fish, one of their favorite foods. As a result they end up eating plastic bags, which can injure or kill them.
“We’re producing an insane amount of waste which ends up in our oceans,” says Thorvalson.
Plastic does not decompose, it just breaks down to smaller pieces which can be ingested or can entangle sea turtles. One of the simplest means of protecting sea turtles is by cutting out the plastic that threatens their very survival.
2. Use biodegradable cleaners
Toxic cleaners can pollute water systems and kill marine life. Dispose of your chemicals properly and then switch to biodegradable cleaners that are safe for marine life.
3. Turn out lights visible from the beach
Baby sea turtles use the light of the moon to find their way to the ocean. If you live by the beach and keep your home lights bright at night, you could confuse the little guys, which can cause them to more easily get lost or become the victim of predators. Artificial light in homes can also discourage female turtles from nesting. If you do keep your lights on, close your blinds to reduce the glare as much as possible.
4. Avoid nesting sites
In populated areas, sea turtle nesting sites may often be roped off to avoid human interference. But either way, avoid sea turtle nesting sites. Be aware of where the nesting sites are so you can avoid trampling on them. When female turtles emerge from the ocean looking for a place to nest, do not disturb them. If you do encounter a sea turtle, remain calm and quiet and avoid them. If you frighten a female sea turtle, she may end up trying to escape back into the ocean instead of nesting on the beach.
5. Clean up the beach
Trash often ends up on our beaches where it confuses baby sea turtles trying to make their way to the ocean. Whether you participate in group beach clean-ups periodically or you walk the beach every so often to help clean up, remove trash that can be destructive to a sea turtle’s habitat.
6. Fill in beach holes
The goal is to avoid any sort of beach obstacle course for turtles. When baby sea turtles hatch from their eggs on the beach, you want them to make it to the ocean without becoming confused or getting caught in an ocean hole. If you dig a hole in the sand, fill it in before you go home. If you build a sand castle, knock it down before leaving the beach.
7. Remove beach furniture and umbrellas
Beach chairs, umbrellas, and tents are another hindrance that can keep baby sea turtles from making their way to the ocean when it’s time to start swimming. Remove them at the end of the day, fill in the holes, and never leave them on the beach overnight when the little guys may be making their journey to the ocean.
8. Don’t construct beach fires during hatching season
Sea turtles are known for being attracted to light. Sadly, in some cases, they can crawl into the fire. It’s just not worth the risk during hatching season. The loggerhead sea turtle nesting season is from May to October in South Carolina, but it varies from place to place.
9. Leave turtle tracks untouched
If you see what you think may be turtle tracks on the beach, don’t touch them. Turtle tracks are a great way for researchers to conduct population research, which has become very important because so many species are classified as endangered.
10. Be alert when boating
When you’re boating, be alert. Be particularly careful not to run aground near the marsh where collision is more likely. Stay in channels and avoid dropping anchors by coral reefs. According to Thorvalson, in South Carolina boat strikes are the biggest immediate threat to sea turtles.
11. Reduce your carbon footprint
Thorvalson says that rising sea levels are set to take a serious toll on sea turtles. Reducing your carbon footprint is the single biggest way you can help them. Sea level rise and storm surge both negatively impact the lives of turtles. Take personal responsibility for the amount of carbon that you produce. Here’s how you can start reducing your carbon footprint today.
What are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint? What about celebrating Earth Day? Are you protecting endangered sea turtles? We want to know! Drop us a line via Twitter @EcoSalon.
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