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Save the Sea Turtles - How Scuba Divers Can Help

By

volunteers help to save a turtle nest

Conservationists relocate a turtle nest to prevent the tide from harming the eggs.

© Monique Mancilla, 2012
Every sea turtle species is classified as either vulnerable, threatened, or endangered.

Why Are Sea Turtle Populations Threatened?:

1. Overconsumption of Turtle Meat:
Sea turtles have long been considered tasty creatures. For years, people have eaten turtle meat and eggs in many countries. Now that sea turtles are listed as endangered in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), turtle consumption is considered illegal in many places. Despite this, illegal trade and consumption still continues.
2. Use of Turtle Shells in Jewelry and Handicrafts
Turtle shells are considered very attractive and are often used to make jewelry and to decorate other objects. Turtle oils are also used in the black market cosmetic and medicinal industries.
3. Accidental Killing of Turtles by Fishing Materials
The fishing industry is responsible for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of turtle deaths each year. Turtles drown when caught on long-lines or in nets because they are unable to surface to breathe. Some changes in fishing techniques (larger hooks and traps which allow turtles to escape from a net, for example) have decreased the number of deaths, but turtles continue to perish.
4. Garbage Consumption
Turtle mistake plastic bits of trash and bags floating for jellyfish. When swallowed, the plastic blocks a turtle's breathing and digestive passages, and eventually may cause death. Abandoned fishing nets and other debris also cause entanglement and drowning.
5. Development of Coastlines
Development along coasts can cause many problems for turtles as well. Construction often leaves little nesting space by causing beach erosion or simply obstructing beach access for female turtles. Since turtle babies find their way to the water by scurrying to the brightest horizon, artificial lights on the coastline can disorient them as they emerge from the nest, preventing them from arriving to the ocean.

How Can Divers Help to Save Sea Turtles from Extinction?:

In the Water:
• Observe, But Don't Touch Turtles!
Turtles are sensitive creatures. Touching, chasing, and riding turtles can cause them unnecessary stress - not to mention they have powerful jaws and can bite hard!
• Organize or Participate in Underwater Clean-ups
Underwater (and beach) clean-ups protect dive sites and marine animals by keeping trash off the reef and out of animal bellies. Plus, it is a great way to meet other divers while ensuring the oceans stay pretty for one of your favorite pastimes!
• Set Entangled or Trapped Turtle Free
If you encoutner a turtle entangled in a net, cut it free as long as doing so does not put you and your dive buddies in harm's way (ie. decompression dive, low on air, etc.). This will save a turtle's life! If you are unable to do rescue a trapped turtle while diving, inform your dive guide so that something may be done to help.
Learn more about sea turtles:
Sea Turtle Facts for Divers
Sea Turtle Identification Guide
• Be a Research Assistant
Many turtle conservation groups organize opportunities to assist with beach walk and turtle hatchery support during the nesting season. It is a great way to see a turtle up close and to learn how conservationists collect data on these animals. You would likely get to see female turtles coming ashore to nest, learn how turtles are measured and tagged (a method to keep track of them), watch eggs be deposited in the sand, and perhaps aid in moving a nest/eggs if their location is deemed unfit (for example, too close to the high tide mark). If you cannot participate, donations are always appreciated!
• Don't Throw Out Plastic Items
Plastic bits, bags and other marine debris are easily mistaken as food by sea turtles (and a plethora of other sea animals and birds). Join the movement by saying "no" to plastic bags and help keep trash out of our oceans. Also, make sure to cut 6-pack drink rings so that marine animals do not get trapped inside the plastic loops.
• Do Not Consume Turtle Meat
Do not contribute to the black market turtle trade by purchasing turtle meat and other products (cosmetics, jewelry, medicines) made with turtle parts.
• Observe Turtles From a Distance on the Beach
If you see a female turtle nesting, quietly observe her from the distance. Bright lights or flash photography may frighten her, causing her to abandon her nesting effort. Similarly, do not touch turtles (they can bite!) and stay out of their way as they shimmy back to the water.

The Take-Home Message About Sea Turtle Conservation:

Sea turtle hatchlings are extremely vulnerable. It is estimated that only 1 in 1000 sea turtles survive to adulthood. With the additional pressures that human activities place on the survival rate of sea turtles, it is necessary that we change our habits to ensure the continued existence of these amazing animals.
Types of Turtles:
Hawksbill Turtles
Green Turtles
Loggerhead Turtles
Leatherback Turtles
Olive Ridley Turtles
Kemp's Ridley Turtles
Australian Flatback Turtles
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