Threats To Sea Turtles
Worldwide, six of the seven sea turtle species are classified as threatened or endangered due to human actions and lifestyles. These animals thrived on earth for millions of years but the last couple hundred years have reduced their populations dramatically. Different species and populations face different threats depending on where they live and their life cycle but below are a few of the main issues they face.
Consumption and illegal trade of eggs and meat: Despite laws protecting sea turtles in most countries, the illegal trade of eggs, meat, and shells (known as poaching) of turtles continues to be a major threat to their survival. These animals are harvested for their meat and eggs which are used for human consumption and in some places are considered a delicacy. One way to help protect nesting turtles, their eggs, and hatchlings is by supporting our Billion Baby Turtles program, where funds go to local organizations to hire residents to patrol nesting beaches. Click here to donate to save baby turtles.
Turtleshell trade: Hawksbill sea turtles are critical to the health of coral reefs by consuming sea sponges that compete with coral for space. They are also a favorite of snorkelers and divers and help draw visitors to spots around the world, helping local economies. But the beautiful shell of the hawksbill, used to hide in the colorful reefs, is also a big reason they are endangered. In many places, artisans take the hawksbill shell (also known as "tortoiseshell") to make jewelry and other products for sale to tourists. Learn more about the turtleshell trade.
Coastal development: Human activities including beachfront construction of homes, hotels, restaurants, and roads can affect sea turtles’ ability to nest. The human alteration of coastlines forces nesting females to use other beaches, changes the properties of nesting beaches, and contributes to the pollution of sea turtle habitat from runoff and wastewater discharge. Increased coastal populations result in increased recreation and beach going vehicles. Learn more about coastal development and sea turtles.
Plastic and other ocean pollution: Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales, and other marine mammals, and more than 1 million seabirds die each year from ocean pollution and ingestion or entanglement in marine debris. Marine debris is manmade waste that is directly or indirectly disposed of in oceans, rivers, and other waterways. Most trash reaches the seas via rivers, and 80% originates from landfills and other urban sources. Other forms of pollution in the ocean that affect sea turtles include oil spills and agricultural runoff like pesticides and fertilizers. Learn more about ocean pollution.
Global warming: The effects of global warming are having enormous impacts on sea turtles and other wildlife. Sea level rise from the melting of polar ice is already contributing to the loss of beach and sea turtle nesting habitat. Warmer sand temperatures are resulting in more female hatchlings, unbalancing the populations. Warmer ocean waters result in coral bleaching, damaging primary turtle habitat. Learn more about global warming and sea turtles.
Entanglement in fishing gear: Incidental capture in fishing gear (also known as bycatch) is likely the greatest threat to sea turtles and many other species worldwide. Marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, and other species are caught and discarded, usually dead. Trawls, longlines, driftnets, gillnets, pots, and traps are all responsible for the death of marine creatures by incidental capture or entanglement. Longlines, containing thousands of baited hooks on lines that can be tens of miles long, hook and entangle many animals and fish that aren't intended to be caught. Learn more about fishing gear entanglement.