Sea turtles are built to last. Equipped with unique body armor to protect them from their natural enemies, they have swum the seas since dinosaurs roamed the land. However, in recent history, rapidly increasing human populations have resulted in new and acute pressures, making sea turtle survival ever more difficult. In August 2006, the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group came together to identify and describe the most significant human induced threats to sea turtles in order to help focus conservation efforts around the world.
It’s estimated that the fishing industry contributes to the death of thousands to tens of thousands of sea turtles each year. Turtles that become trapped in longlines, gill nets and trawls are thrown away as bycatch. And those that manage to avoid fishing nets are impacted by the disruption to their food supply and habitat.
Throughout the world, turtles are killed and traded on the global market as exotic food, oil, leather, and jewelry. Over the past 100 years, millions of hawksbill turtles alone have been killed just for the price of their shells. And even though today the global trade of luxury and craft items has reduced thanks to conservation efforts, it still remains an ongoing threat to turtles in parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Every year, sea turtle habitats are destroyed because of shrinking coastlines. Wherever there is boat vessel traffic, whenever a new hotel or high-rise is built up along the shore, and wherever there is sea floor dredging and beach erosion sea turtle food supplies and nesting areas take a major hit.
Pollution and Pathogens
Marine pollution can harm sea turtles in many ways. Discarded fishing gear, petroleum by-products, and other plastic debris injure sea turtles through ingestion and entanglement. This sea garbage weakens the turtles’ immune systems, and disrupts nesting behavior and hatchling orientation for future generations.
We are just now learning the extent to which climate change can affect sea turtles. Climate change can impact the natural sex ratios of hatchlings, increase the likelihood of disease outbreaks, and can escalate the frequency of extreme weather events, which destroy nesting beaches and coral reefs.