Sea turtles are ancient ocean dwellers that have lived on the earth for 150 million years, since before the time of the dinosaurs. They are large, air breathing reptiles that inhabit both tropical and subtropical seas all over the world. Sea turtles spend most of their life at sea, but females come ashore to nest and lay their eggs beneath the sand.
There are 7 species of sea turtles: Green, Kemp’s ridley, Olive ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Flatback and Loggerhead. The leatherback is the only sea turtle that we would likely spot in the wild near the Bay area.
*In January 2012, federal regulators designated nearly 42,000 square miles of ocean along the West Coast as critical habitat for the Pacific leatherback turtle. Read more here.
A current state bill (AB1776) proposes to designate the leatherback sea turtle as California’s official marine reptile. Show your support for the leatherback bill.
All 7 species of sea turtle are either critically endangered or threatened. Only a fraction of the thousands of hatchlings emerging from their nests will survive to adulthood. Natural obstacles between a turtle and survival exist, but it is the increasing threats caused by humans that are driving them towards extinction. The population of leatherbacks has declined by 95% over just the past 25 years.
Photo caption (right): Photograph shows a Green Sea Turtle immediately after it was freed of a cinched plastic tie around its body. The turtle's body had grown around the plastic tie.
Sea turtles can become tangled in plastic and trash both on the shore and in the water. Discarded items such as fishing lines, balloons and plastic bags may also be confused for food and eaten by sea turtles, often resulting in injury or death.
2) Reduce the amount of chemicals you use.
The chemicals you use on your lawn and in your home can actually wash into the coastal waters – killing plants and animals. It is very important to properly dispose of toxic chemicals and, even better, find alternative products such as biodegradable solutions.Reduce the amount of chemicals that you use.
Photo Caption: Close up of plastic found in digestive system of a dead sea turtle.
3) Be aware of sea turtle nesting areas and avoid nesting and hatching turtles.
Sea turtles are cute, and therefore tempting to touch and observe – but flashlights and people disturb turtles when they are nesting, or trying to nest, on the beach. If you are in an area where sea turtles nest, make sure to give nesting areas plenty of space, and do not disturb females as they emerge from the ocean looking for a place to nest. Also be conscious of where nesting areas are so that you can avoid trampling the hatchlings as they head to the water.
Seafood Watch has a consumer's guide to sustainable seafood, which includes bycatch as one of its criteria for determining sustainability. Visit Seafood Watch for more information.
5) Support local and national efforts to protect sea turtles
Join the Pacifica Beach Coalition to help keep our beaches free of plastic debris. Follow organizations such as the Sea Turtle Restoration Network to learn more about ongoing efforts to protect sea turtles.
There are countless ways in which you can make a positive difference in the lives of sea turtles. Organize a clean-up day with your friends or join an organized Pacifica Beach Coalition cleanup to clear the beach of litter, give a presentation to your neighborhood or local school on things they can do to save sea turtles, and most importantly, talk to others about what they can do to make sure they are not putting these important creatures in danger.
*Adapted from Defenders of Wildlife
Voyage of the Turtle: In pursuit of the Earth’s Last Dinosaur by Carl Safina
Sea Turtles by J.R. Spotila (2005) Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press (great info on trends, threats, basic biology)Interrupted Journey: Saving Endangered Sea Turtles by Kathryn Lasky and Christopher G. Knight (May 9, 2006)
Singing the Turtles to Sea: The Comcasc (Seri) art and science of reptiles. Gary Paul Nabhan, Harry W. Greene (2003).
Books for kids
Luna by J. Cummings (2001)
Sea Turtles: Ocean Nomads by M.M. Cerulo and J.L. Rotman (2003).
Sea Turtles:Animals of the Ocean by S. Dunbier (2000)
Voyage of the Lonely Turtle. PBS Interview with Wallace J. Nichols.
Links to understanding longline fishing and sustainable fishing methods: