Sea turtles have been around for millions of years. They migrate long distances around the world, feeding on anything from jellyfish to sea urchins and seagrasses, but always return to the same beach they were born on to lay their eggs. The female crawls ashore to lay up to 120 eggs, covers up the nest with sand using her flippers and returns to the sea, never to see her hatchlings.
The hatchlings will emerge from the nest in large groups and make a dash for the sea by following the light of the moon and stars reflecting in the sea. It is estimated that only around 1 in every 1000 of them will reach maturity in about 20 years and they may grow over 80 years old.
The ever increasing demand from tourism for pristine, sandy beaches – often favoured by sea turtles – has been detrimental to turtle nesting habitats worldwide. This development, combined with increasing pollution and by-catch of turtles out at sea, not to mention locations where turtle meat and eggs are still considered a delicacy, has to lead to a global decline of sea turtle populations. As travellers, we must travel responsible and protect wildlife.
Making a positive difference for sea turtles in your holidays is as simple as this:
1 | Turn On Lights Visible From the Beach
Sea turtle hatchlings use light and reflections from the moon to find their way to the water at night. Artificial lighting confuses the hatchlings and causes them to head inland instead of out to sea – putting them in dangerous situations which can lead to death. Artificial lights also discourage adult females from nesting on the beach.
So if you are camping near or on the beach, for example, turn off your lights and enjoy the moonlight! Otherwise, take measures to shield, redirect and lower the intensity of the lights you carry with you.
If you have a beach rental on a nesting beach, turn off all exterior lights that face the shore.
2 | You Don’t Think About The Garbage
Sea turtles can become tangled in plastic and trash both on the shore and in the water. Discarded items such as fishing lines, balloons and plastic bags may also be confused for food and eaten by sea turtles, often resulting in injury or death.
Once in the water, “bags float and looks like a jellyfish, which a number of turtles eat,” explained David Godfrey, executive director of Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC). “Turtles wash up sick or emaciated or dead and when we examine them we find plastic blocking up the gut track. There are these areas in the oceans called convergence zones, where currents come together, and you get long lines of seaweed, where hatchlings live. They float in that seaweed and find food and protection from predators.”
Take your water and drinks to the beach in reusable stainless steel bottles. And choose biodegradable or reusable containers for food.
Take back every single piece of rubbish and even better, why not picking up rubbish while you are walkabout… In fact, just last week, a disturbing 548kg of rubbish was collected from the coastline running from Shelly Beach to Coolum, Sunshine Coast, Australia.
People let’s change this!!
3 | Trying To Get As Closer As You Can From Nesting and Hatching Turtles
Sea turtles are cute, and therefore tempting to touch and observe – but flashlights and people disturb turtles when they are nesting, or trying to nest, on the beach. Make sure to give nesting areas plenty of space, and do not disturb females as they emerge from the ocean looking for a place to nest. Also, be conscious of where nesting areas are so that you can avoid trampling the hatchlings as they head to the water. When we went to see the turtles in Bundaberg, the volunteers were very assertive on how we could behave near their nesting and hatching spots.
4 | Wearing Chemical-Based Sun Protection
Sunscreens give off a pretty toxic chemical when you wear them in the water, the film runs off your body and settles into the environment, affecting its chemical makeup. When you have hundreds of people a day swimming and snorkelling in the water, these toxins accumulate — particularly in areas where there are reefs — and it’s bad for plant life and for fish and for the turtles.
5 | Buying Improperly Fished Seafood
Turtles often migrate through popular fishing areas, and sadly, more than 250,000 are accidentally captured, injured, or killed, according to the STC. The turtles are attracted to the fishing bait and become caught on hooks and in nets. It’s one of the biggest threats against the sea turtle population.
Always get wild-caught seafood from places where the fishermen are using turtle-friendly fishing hooks and turtle excluder devices on nets. They do this in Australia! And if you’re not sure, ask!