Sea turtles truly are one of the most graceful and beautiful animals of the sea. However, they are one of the fastest declining endangered species. University Putra Malaysia Associate Professor Dr. Chan Eng Heng said since the sea turtle research unit was formed in 1993, barely ten Leatherbacks had been sighted, compared to 2000 Leatherbacks in the 1950's.
In Sarawak (an area of Malaysia) only 400 green turtles were spotted compared to 4500 in the 1930's.
There are several reasons as to why these numbers are falling. Numbers suggest that around 55,000 turtles in the US were killed in prawn trawl nets, and 21,000 turtles died in Japanese tuna log lines during high sea operations. Another reason for the decline is the exploitation of turtle eggs. These turtles feed off of jellyfish, and boy do they love it! Because a plastic bag can look like a jellyfish, they sometimes eat plastic bags from human garbage thrown out at sea.
Some of these sea turtles experience what is called a "false crawl" due to outside lighting from coastal development. A false crawl is when sea turtles come ashore to nest but get disturbed and can't find a suitable site.
The Hawksbill turtle is being hunted for the beautiful shells. Jewelry is made from their shells, and leather is made from their hides. The Green turtle population is lowered by commercial exploitation of eggs and adults and beach disturbances.
The Olive Ridley turtles have been affected by the commercial harvest of adults, incidental catch in shrimp trawls, and harvest of eggs from nest beaches. Loggerheads have experienced declination due to capture in trawls, loss of habitat due to coastal development, and local exploitation.
Coastal development lights have disorientated nesting females and hatchlings. They may head in the wrong direction (inland) and end up in roadways resulting in death by a automobiles.
The Leatherbacks experience numerous threats to their existence including: excessive harvesting of their eggs, capture for food, oil, and shark bait, incidental catch in shrimp trawls and squid nets, and habitat disturbances.
"Mankind destroys sea turtle habitats through anchoring, dredging, dynamiting and bottom trawling" - Dr. Chan Eng Heng.
Here are some measures that have been taken to help reduce the decline of the sea turtle population in southeast Asia. The state of Sabah, through the Sabah parks Board of Trustees, has entered into a bilateral conservation and management agreement with the neighboring Philippines to establish a Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA) encompassing the islands where large numbers of turtles have been found to nest.
Turtle Excluder Devices (TED) is a device that can be installed on shrimping boats. They are a cheap proven technology that has been shown to reduce sea turtle mortality by more than 97%. These TED's are required by law on all US shrimping boats. Unfortunately some shrimp fishermen disable their TEDs because they believe the TEDs reduce their shrimp catch. This may be a contributing factor in the grim reality that there are still large numbers of dead sea turtles washing up on US shores.
All of the sea turtles species are protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International trade In Endangered species (CITES).
If you find an adult sea turtle or hatchling, leave it alone. Report the turtle if it is in a dangerous situation (i.e. in a roadway or parking lot) to the Sea Turtle Hotline. Report all sea turtles that are stranded, injured, are apparently unhealthy, or dead. If the turtle has not moved for over 30 minutes, report as well. The Sea Turtle Hotline: 1 (954) 328-0580, or Environmental Complaints and Emergency Response: 1 (954) 519-1499.
"The turtles have ecological values which we cannot ignore. They help keep the balance of the ecosystem as well as to cycle nutrients by transporting the substances from rich feeding grounds to poor nutrient nesting sites"
- Dr. Chan Eng Heng.