Not just a cute ocean animal
Sea turtles are a "keystone species;" vital to our environment and an important link in the food chain that brings balance to ocean life. Without them, the fauna they feast on and the prey they hunt go unchecked, impacting other wildlife in various ways.
On the beach, sea turtles make an impact even when their hatchlings make it out to sea by providing rich nutrients for dune vegetation. Otherwise, "bad eggs" and newborn sea turtles act as food for crabs, birds, and mammals. Today many sea turtle organisations work to protect nests from on-land predators, but back in the day when sea turtles were aplenty, this was a way their own numbers were kept in check. Given the high number of endangered species of sea turtles, this is one area where conservation organisations try to influence successful birth and transition of hatchlings to the sea.
In the ocean sea turtles enjoy feasting on jellyfish - especially the great Leatherback - which help to keep these species in check. If jellyfish had free reign they would dominate the larval fish they seek out, thus impacting the number of grown fish in the seas.
Other sea turtles like the Green, enjoy eating sea grasses. This is important as it keeps the grasses healthy, which in turn act as a home and nursery for smaller ocean species, and helps reduce sea floor erosion.
Around coral reefs, species like the Hawksbill prey on specific types of sea sponges. This is important because it allows coral to flourish without being suffocated by any overgrown neighbors.
Finally, sea turtles are a migrating animal, meaning they travel great distances to follow more cozy ocean temperatures. And they gladly accept hitchhikers - smaller species like barnacles and other small crustaceans that attach to their shells - thus transporting ocean life (and nutrients) around the ocean.
A total of 7 species inhabit the ocean, 6 of which are either considered vulnerable or critically endangered.
Check out this handy infographic from WWF for more detailed data on the animal.
Major threats to sea turtles include:
- Climate change: rising temps are having an impact on the gender of hatchlings skewing female
- Bycatch: accidental capture by large fishing nets (and by large we're talking 2.5km in length - this is not a sustainable fishing practice and needs to be regulated)
- Illegal trade, for shells, eggs, etc
- Habitat loss via coastline development
Many sea turtle non-profit organisations around the world work to meet these challenges head on.
The Sea Turtle Foundation in Cairns, Queensland, Australia - the one we support with 5% of net sales of all Ridley themed garments - address these threats by rescuing stranded turtles in North Queensland, training others to respond to strandings, providing educational programs for schools and communities and supporting research into turtle health and ecology throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Like them on Facebook today to track their accomplishments and join the conversation.