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Endangered Turtles

Endangered Turtles

There are over 100 endangered turtles currently in the world with more being added as time goes on. Turtles are among some of the most endangered vertebrates on the planet.

In fact, more than half of all turtle species have at least a threatened conservation status. According to many biologists, turtles are in trouble.

Threats to turtles include overharvesting (collection for trade or food & traditional medicine), pollution (such as oil spills), trash (such as plastics), and destruction of their habitat.

Of course, we cannot look at every single endangered turtle species, but we will look at some significant species threatened by extinction.

Quick Reference Section

Endangered Sea turtles

Sea turtles are among the most endangered animals in the world. They are faced with many threats that negatively affect their wild population.

Threats to sea turtles include overharvesting and pollution caused by discarded fishing hooks, lines, and nets as well as chemicals and trash. Only one sea turtle isn’t endangered and this is the flatback.

What are sea turtles? Sea turtles consist of seven turtle species which include the green sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, olive ridley sea turtles, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, and hawksbill sea turtle.

We have a look at the turtles, their conservation status, and the threats faced by wild populations.

Green Sea Turtles

green sea turtle
Green sea turtle swimming with fish in ovean
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Chelonia mydas
  • Range Adult Size: 39.37 to 47.24 inches
  • Lifespan: 75 years
  • Diet in the Wild: (primarily carnivorous as juveniles but omnivorous as adults) fish eggs, jellyfish mollusks, worms, crustaceans, algae, seagrass, api api, and salt-water cordgrass

Green sea turtles inhabit the subtropical and tropical seas and coastline beaches. They can be found mainly in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The green sea turtle’s carapace is actually blackish to olive in color. However, found beneath this chelonian’s carapace is green fat which gives the species its common name.

Main Threats: The main threats to this turtle include poaching, hunting, and the overharvesting of the turtle’s eggs.

Pollution and environmental degradation also contribute to the ever-declining wild populations.

Conservation Efforts: The green sea turtle has been listed on the IUCN Red List as an endangered species. They have also been listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

As such the trade of specimens of the species is prohibited except under approval of import and export permits. The turtle is also protected under United States Federal laws.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles

loggerhead sea turtle swimming
loggerhead sea turtle swimming
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Caretta caretta
  • Range Adult Size: 32 to 40 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 62 years 
  • Diet in the Wild: (omnivorous) mainly bottom-dwelling invertebrates, turtles, fish eggs & fish, starfish, jellyfish, sea cucumbers, mollusks, sand dollars, sea urchins, worms, crustaceans, vascular plants, and algae

The loggerhead sea turtles are found all over the world and in almost all the oceans of the world. C. caretta populations found in temperate regions migrate to the subtropics and the tropics during the winter months.

Main Threats: The main threats to the wild population of the C. caretta include accidental capture in fishing gear.

Other threats include humans disturbing the nests and nesting process of the species and human developments at the beaches where the turtle’s nest. Pollutions such as oil spills and trash also cause a decline in the wild populations.

Conservation Efforts: The loggerhead sea turtle has been listed on the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species and endangered on the ESA listing.

They have also been listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

As with the green sea turtle, the trade of specimens of the species is prohibited except under approval of import and export permits.

The turtle is also protected under United States Federal laws – Endangered Species Act and Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Kemp’s ridley Sea Turtles

Kemp's-Ridley-Sea-Turtle
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle swimming in turquoise color water
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Lepidochelys olivacea
  • Range Adult Size: 23 to 28 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
  • Diet in the Wild: as juveniles mainly crabs, jellyfish, seaweed, mollusks, fish, worms, crustaceans, and algae

The Kemp’s ridley is the most endangered sea turtle in the world and the rarest as well. Found in the Atlantic, this turtle is also known as the Atlantic ridley sea turtle.

This turtle can be found from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in Canada to Bermuda. These turtles mainly nest in the Gulf of Mexico. They migrate to the Yucatan Peninsula at the Campeche Bank and the Mississippi coastline.

Main Threats: The main threats to the wild population of this turtle include accidental entanglement in fishing nets, habitat loss, and pollution such as oil spills.

Conservation Efforts: Kemp’s ridley has been listed on the IUCN Red List as a critically endangered species. They are also listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are protected under United States Federal laws – Endangered Species Act.

They have also been listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). As such the trade of this turtle is prohibited. Since the mid-1990s, the number of Kemp‘s Ridley nests found on the Texas Coast has been on the rise.

Olive’s ridley Sea Turtles

Olive-ridley-swimming
Olive ridley sea turtle swimming
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Lepidochelys Oliveii
  • Range Adult Size: 24 inches
  • Diet in the Wild: (primarily carnivorous) crabs, jellyfish, rock lobsters, mollusks, shrimp, fish and fish eggs, worms, snails, sea urchins, and crustaceans

The Olive’s ridley can be found in the tropics and subtropics of the Indian, Pacific, and southern Atlantic oceans. This turtle prefers the shallow and spends most of its days feeding and sunbathing.

Main Threats: the main threats to the wild population of this turtle include accidental entanglement in shrimping nets, habitat loss, and pollution such as oil spills.

Conservation Efforts: the Olive ridley has been listed on the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species. As such, although the species aren’t endangered, they are still at risk. They are also listed as threatened under the United States’ Endangered Species Act.

Hawksbill

hawksbill sea turtle
Hawksbill Sea Turtle swimming underwater with a diver in the background
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Range Adult Size: 24.61 to 44.88 inches
  • Lifespan: 20+ years
  • Diet in the Wild: cnidarians, jellyfish, seaweed, mollusks, fish, aquatic worms, aquatic crustaceans, macroalgae, and algae

The hawksbill is a critically endangered turtle that is quite large. It can grow to lengths of 45 inches.

As a critically endangered species, the hawksbill is on the verge of extinction. They can be found in the Atlantic (E. i. imbricata) and Indo-Pacific oceans (E. i. bissa).

Main Threats: The main threat to the wild populations is poaching. This has been identified as the main threat. As the hawksbill turtle is a delicacy especially in china, they have been overharvested.

This exploitation has negatively affected the wild population and the species are on the verge of extinction.

Conservation Efforts: The hawksbill is listed on the IUCN Red List as a critically endangered species. They have also been listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). As such the trade of this turtle is prohibited.

Leatherback

Leatherback_Sea_Turtle_Dermochelys_coriacea-on-beach
Leatherback Sea Turtle on beach laying eggs
Quick Facts
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Binomial Name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Range Adult Size: 57.09 to 62.99 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 years
  • Diet in the Wild: (carnivorous) cnidarians, jellyfish, zooplankton, mollusks, fish, aquatic worms, and aquatic crustaceans

The leatherback is listed as endangered under the ESA. however, under the IUCN, the species are listed as vulnerable although several subpopulations are critically endangered such as the East Pacific Ocean subpopulation. The leatherback is easily identified by its leathery carapace.

Main Threats: The main threats to the wild populations include accidental capture in fishing gear or bycatch. Pollutions such as oil spills and trash have also caused a decline in the wild populations.

Plastic bags and balloons can cause intestinal blockage and malabsorption since these resemble jellyfish, which the leatherback eats.

Conservation Efforts: The leatherback is listed on the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species. However, it is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as an endangered species. and is protected under United States Federal laws – Endangered Species Act.

the turtle is also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). As such any international trade is prohibited.

Endangered Freshwater turtles

Flattened musk turtle

Flattened Musk Turtle laying on riverbed
Flattened Musk Turtle laying on riverbed
Quick Facts
  • Family: Kinosternidae
  • Binomial Name: Sternotherus depressus
  • Average Adult Size: 3 to 4 inches
  • Lifespan: 20+ years
  • Diet in the Wild: (carnivorous) aquatic invertebrates such as snails and mussels

This chelonian is referred to as the flattened musk turtle since the carapace is quite depressed when compared to other musk turtles.  These small chelonians usually live in shallow streams where they hunt. 

Main Threats: The main threat to the S. depressus includes extensive strip mining and damming. Other threats include pollution, development, and clear-cutting. All of these threats have to lead to the degradation of the habitat.

Conservation Efforts: The flattened musk turtle is listed as a critically endangered species on the IUCN Red List. While not listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the S. depressus is listed as a threatened species on the US Federal List. 

Coahuilan box turtle

Coahuilan-Box-Turtle
Coahuilan Box Turtle on white background
Quick Facts
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Binomial Name: Terrapene coahuila
  • Average Adult Size: 6 inches
  • Lifespan: 9 years
  • Diet in the Wild: (opportunistic omnivores) insects, mushrooms, spiders, crustaceans, fish, spikerush, and green algae

The Coahuilan box turtle is endemic to the state of Coahuila, Mexico (in specific to the  Cuatro Ciénegas basin). This chelonian is generally found in shallow rivers and streams.

Main Threats: The main threat to the species is the loss of wetland habitats. These reptiles mostly live in shallow streams and rivers that are susceptible to drying, the during marshes makes the risk of habitat loss more severe.

Other threats include the construction of roads, pipelines, and railroads through the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin.

Conservation Efforts: The T. coahuila is listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. On the US Federal List, this species is also listed as ‘endangered’. Due to the endangered status of the species, it is protected by CITES Appendix I.

Yangtze Giant Softshell

Yangtze Giant Softshell
Yangtze Giant Softshell
Quick Facts
  • Family: Trionychidae
  • Binomial Name: Rafetus swinhoei
  • Other names: Red River giant softshell turtle, the Shanghai softshell turtle, the speckled softshell turtle, and Swinhoe’s softshell turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 39 inches
  • Lifespan: Unknown
  • Diet in the Wild: frogs, crabs, snails, and vegetation such as water hyacinth

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is a critically endangered species. Only about four living individuals of the species are known to exist. As such the species are on the verge of extinction.

The R. swinhoei is known as the largest freshwater turtle species in the world. It is a softshell turtle and as such has a leathery carapace.

Main Threats: The key threats to the species include habitat loss and overharvesting for food and alternative medicine.

Conservation Efforts: The R. swinhoei is listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. Efforts are being made to captive breed the last of the R. swinhoei in China, so far this has proven fruitless. The species protected by CITES Appendix II.

McCord’s Snakeneck Turtle/Roti Island snake-necked turtle

Roti Island snake-necked turtle
Roti Island snake-necked turtles swimming together
Quick Facts
  • Family: Chelidae
  • Binomial Name: Chelodina mccordi
  • Average Adult Size: 5.91 to 8.43 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Diet in the Wild: insects, fish, amphibians, worms, mollusks, and algae

The Roti Island snake-necked turtle, also known as the McCord’s Snakeneck Turtle, is a critically endangered turtle species.

The common name of this turtle refers to its long neck which is about two-thirds its carapace length. This long neck helps the turtle hunt.

The C. mccordi is native to the Rote island in Indonesia.

Main Threats: The key threat to the species is excessive harvesting for the pet trade. This rare turtle is still one of the most desired turtles in the world.

Conservation Efforts: The C. mccordi is listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. in 2001, even before it was listed in CITES Appendix II, the capture and trade of this rare turtle were prohibited.

While several trade sanctions have limited the movement of these turtles outside Rote island, the wild population is still on the decline.

Conclusion

There are many more endangered turtle species not mentioned in this list. In fact, there are over 100 endangered turtle species, according to IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) – the global authority on the conservation status of species and the measures necessary to protect these species.

Many of these turtles are on the verge of extinction and will go extinct if nothing is done to stop this. The two main threats to chelonian wild populations include overharvesting and the destruction of the turtles’ natural habitats.

Many of these species are protected by CITES Appendix I & II. Similarly, conservation measures and initiatives exist all over the world to safeguard these chelonians. Regardless, the future is bleak for many of these endangered species.

If you have any additional information or questions, leave a comment.

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