One of the creatures that has been on the earth for an extremely long number of years is the turtle. They fascinate me. At one point during my teaching career, our elementary school staff decided to name our classrooms with an animal name. There were the Pandas, Mustangs, Rabbits, Whales, Hawks, Owls, Eagles, and Bears, to name a few. And, then there was my classroom….the Turtles. We studied sea turtles, land turtles, wrote a class newspaper entitled “The Turtle Times,” and created turtle art, music, and poetry. We even had a classroom turtle in an aquarium tank during one school year. Little did we know how much he did not like that environment until I took him home for the summer, set the tank on the front porch, and by morning, he had managed to climb out and make his way into the woods, where we saw him and all hope he lived happily every after!
Needless to say, sea turtles are the focus of much research and study, because they are in danger of extinction due to commercial fishing, environmental dangers, and accidents. They are varied and beautiful – the Kemp’s Ridley, Green Turtle, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Olive Ridleys, and Hawksbill – and they are all on the high or very high endangered species list. Only the Flatback sea turtle is not considered endangered. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) makes it illegal to disturb or interfere with sea turtles or their eggs.
Commercial fishing is one of the dangers to sea turtles. Since 1983, federal law has required devices to assure that turtles can escape fishing nets be used on all trawlers operating in U.S. waters with populations of sea turtles. This device, called a Turtle Excluder Device, was developed by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Shrimp can pass through it to the back of the net, and turtles can move through the trapdoor and back into the sea before becoming entangled in the net.
A second risk to the sea turtle population is polluted waters, such as those created by the Gulf Oil Spill. Proactive creation of wildlife refuges is an attempt to provide safe, clean environments in which sea turtles can live and breed. In 1991, 900 acres between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso Beach, Florida were acquired, with local agencies and private groups sharing the cost. This area is an extremely important nesting place for Western Hemisphere loggerheads, U.S. green sea turtles, and the northernmost Atlantic Coast point for leatherback nesting. This area has resulted in an increase in the number of counted loggerhead nests from ten in 1996 to 39 in 2001. Because this refuge area is considered prime commercial real estate development, government funding is essential to preserve it.
Accidents also claim the lives of sea turtles. They come in from the ocean to lay their eggs on beaches. After laying their eggs, the adult females return to the ocean. When their eggs hatch, the hatchlings instinctively crawl towards the brightest light, which should be the sky above the sea. However, beach lighting and car lights from nearby roads often confuse them, they crawl the wrong way, and sometimes are crushed under the wheels of passing automobiles, become dehydrated, or are eaten by predators. A low pressure sodium vapor light can be used on the beaches, and this kind of lighting may reduce the disorientation of the hatchlings. This has been encouraged in many beach communities.
To find out more about sea turtles, and how you can help protect them, check out this link: http://www.seaturtles.org. You can also find out more about the characteristics, habits, and habitats at this link: http://www.seaworld.org/infobooks/SeaTurtle/stadapt.html and threats at http://www.conserveturtles.org/seaturtleinformation.php?page=threats
(Photos downloaded from a free site with permission to use personally or commercially.)
This blog post written by Pam Todd, www.bagsandmorebypam.artfire.com, who loves learning about all animals, and who creates some items for animals (although hasn’t yet determined a way to make anything for turtles!)