Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sea Turtles: many factors adding to their risk

All of the ocean's sea turtles exist today under some level of endangered or threatened status due to years of hunting in the past for their meat and shells. And though laws exist for their protection, they are still severely impacted by illegal poaching for their eggs and the turtles themselves, in addition to the number of turtles lost in commercial fishing nets.

Steps are being taken to protect sea turtles and ongoing research continues to investigate their living behaviors, but populations are still in critical decline and many species face an unknown future.

Here's some info on one particular species: the large, impressive Loggerhead Turtle.

According to a report by the National Marine Fisheries Service on the status of the loggerhead turtle which is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the turtle's worldwide population is still very much at risk of further declines. While a few areas in the world have shown some improvement at nesting beaches, most areas at at risk of further decline. In particular, the Northeast, Northwest and South Atlantic Ocean; the Mediterranean, and the North Indian Ocean.

Migratory patterns of loggerhead hatchlings are being studied as these migrations can be critical in determining risk exposure for turtles, in addition to finding correlations between nesting site and other more distant populations. Studies have shown that loggerhead turtles can travel great distances, making transoceanic migrations, possibly as far away as from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Hatchlings from South Pacific nesting sites, like Australia, have been recorded along the Peruvian coast, where no nesting sites exist.

It's not just poachers or natural predators that threaten eggs and hatchlings at nesting sites. When the subject of coastal development is brought up, many often think of construction that brings about pollution. While this is an issue, another coastal development action that threatens loggerhead and green turtles is "artificial beach nourishment." This a somewhat fancy term for beach re-shaping or just plain moving sand. Either to replace sand due to or to act as a deterrent to erosion, sand is moved in and beaches are reshaped. When this occurs in areas that are known turtle nesting sites, the re-sculpturing of the beach slope sometimes makes it difficult if not impossible for the female sea turtle to properly lay its eggs, particularly for the larger loggerhead turtle.

In addition to turtle conservation campaigns being initiated by major NGOs like Oceana, WildAid, and Ocean Conservancy , there are turtle specific organization, like the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, that are worth looking into.

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