Sea Turtles Are Coming Back From The Brink of Extinction

It’s not often humanity gets to pat itself on the back for a positive effect on the environment, but researchers are hailing sea turtles as a “global conservation success story” as population numbers climb.

Six of the seven species of sea turtle are at varying threat levels on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. But research shows significant improvements that show promise for the future.

Humans have not been kind to turtles. They have been killed for their shells and meat, and their eggs harvested for food. Their nesting and foraging habitats have been destroyed, and they get tangled in fishing nets, or caught accidentally.

The hawksbill turtle and the Kemp’s ridley turtle are both critically endangered, the green turtle is endangered, the loggerhead turtle, the leatherback turtle and the olive ridley turtle are all vulnerable. Only the flatback turtle isn’t listed as threatened, but there’s insufficient data for an assessment.

To gauge turtle numbers, the research team studied data on 299 nesting sites, monitored between 6 and 47 years. They found that 95 of those nesting sites had significantly increased numbers of nests, compared to just 35 that had significant decreases.

The team isn’t 100 percent sure what’s causing the upward population trend, but believes it’s linked to protection of eggs – harvesting them is illegal in many countries, and heavily restricted in others.

There’s also been a reduction in sea turtle bycatch, thanks to initiatives such as the development of a fishing hook that is much less likely to be swallowed by the turtles.

However, that doesn’t mean the sea turtle is out of the woods, or even close. The researchers found that leatherback turtles continue to decline.

There are other factors that need to be taken into account, too. Counting the nesting sites before the eggs hatch will not include potential disasters affecting juvenile turtles.

Rising sea levels at Raine Island in Australia, the world’s largest remaining green turtle nesting site, has killed many eggs before they could hatch, since the eggs can’t survive underwater.

Many loggerhead turtle hatchlings died at Mon Repos in Australia earlier this year when sand temperatures became too hot for survival.

Sea turtles take a long time to reach sexual maturity, too. Hawksbill turtles take 3 years, loggerhead turtles take 12 to 30 years, and green turtles take anywhere between 30 and 50 years to sexually mature, so population rises we’re seeing now could be thanks to conservation efforts some time ago.

Saving the sea turtles will continue to be an ongoing effort.

“Our findings highlight the importance of continued conservation and monitoring efforts that underpin this global conservation success story,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

The research was published open access in the journal Science Advances.

Travel: Travelers Can Now Help Save the Sea Turtles

Over the past 100 years, the population of hawksbill sea turtles has decreased by a shocking 90 percent. In an effort to save this endangered species, animal activist groups have started the “Too Rare to Wear” campaign, calling travelers to Latin America and the Caribbean to avoid buying any and all tortoiseshell souvenirs.

The tourist demand is, largely, the most threatening factor to these incredibly colorful creatures. Trinkets are slowing driving the species to extinction, despite the illegality of selling tortoiseshell products.

With this in mind, the groups behind the “Too Rare to Wear” campaign are doing their best to educate travelers on how to recognize tortoise products, so they may avoid purchasing them. This tactic has also been used to prevent the sale of elephant ivory products and shark fins.

Learn more about the campaign and how you can help here.

Sea Turtles Wear Swimsuits For Science

Sea turtles in Australia are donning swimwear as part of conservation efforts.

Owen Coffee, a PhD student at Australia’s University of Queensland, made the swimsuits to help collect sea turtle feces. Coffee is studying the specimens to help determine where the animals are feeding and thereby protect endangered sea turtle populations like loggerheads and green turtles.

The “ultimate aim is to see if these different foraging grounds are impacting reproductive success,” Coffee said. “I hope to find which foraging areas are contributing more successful nesting females … so we can make sure those areas are being adequately protected.”

But to find out where the animals are feeding, Coffee must first determine what they’re eating — and that requires analyzing the animals’ feces.

Recently Coffee and his team captured six loggerhead sea turtles and took them to the university’s Moreton Bay Research Station.

“It was challenging to collect the entire fecal sample once it dispersed into the water, so we developed a flexible funnel anchored to the shell, to fit over the turtle’s tail,” he said.

However, the turtles — which can be about 3 feet long and weigh nearly 300 pounds at reproductive size — easily flicked off the funnels, so Coffee had to find a way to keep them in place.

That’s when the research stations education coordinator mentioned that researchers had previously designed a flexible harness when studying sea turtle hatchlings. It was made out of swimsuit material so it would fit snugly over the hatchlings’ shells.

So Coffee purchased a few secondhand sunshirts, removed the sleeves and cut and sewed the shirts into turtle “swimsuits” to act as diapers.

Thanks to the suits, Coffee and his team were able to easily collect the necessary samples and then release the animals back into the ocean — without their fashionable suits.

Coffee’s study will continue for three years, and the fecal samples will be analyzed to determine which sea turtle feeding areas need greater protection.

Florida Woman Arrested After She Was Accused of Riding a Sea Turtle

Save a sea turtle, ride a — well, anything else.

Police officers in Melbourne, Florida, arrested one of two women on Saturday who had appeared in photos that showed them sitting on sea turtles. Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Act restricts the disturbance, molestation or harassment of sea turtles, which are a protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Stephanie Marie Moore, 20, was taken to Brevard County Jail when officers were responding to a house disturbance early on Saturday and came across Moore, who had an active felony warrant for the sea turtle incident, the Melbourne Police Department posted on its Facebook page. Moore is being held on a $2,000 bond.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had conducted a criminal investigation after the photos, which surfaced in July, sparked outrage.

The pictures allegedly were sent over Snapchat, and had a filter label that suggested they were taken at Melbourne Beach, which is known for its sea turtles. The photos were later posted to Facebook, where people started noticing them — in a big way.

The other woman in the photos has not been identified.