Marine turtles are air breathing reptiles comprising of seven species: green (chelonia mydas), hawksbill (eretmochelys imbriata), kemp’s ridley (lepidochelys kempii), leatherback (dermochelys coriacea), loggerhead (caretta caretta), olive ridley (lepidochelys olivacea), and the flatback sea turtle (natotor depressus). All of these species, except for the Australian flatback sea turtle, are found in U.S. waters. All of the marine turtles in U.S. waters are listed under the endangered species act ( ESA).
It is believed that modern marine turtle evolved about 120 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. In the desolated dark beaches and unpolluted ocean of a time past, these powerful creatures proliferated. Today these majestic sea reptiles are facing extinction, mainly due to human population growth.
The over-development of coastal areas has led to a continual loss of habitats. Poaching continues to be a problem since sea turtle eggs are considered to be superior to chicken eggs for baking. Artificial lighting along coastal areas often has a disorienting effect on turtles leading to deteriorating nesting success. The light of the moon illuminating the ocean surface has for millenniums been the guiding light for the hatchlings as they return to the sea. The light of our seashore dwellings, however, has made the coast brighter then the ocean resulting in hatchlings loss of orientation. In addition to light pollution, pollution from litter also affects sea turtles. The leatherback turtle, for example, main food is jellyfish. When we discard plastic bags into the ocean the leatherback will often, as a mistaken entity,ingest it and either sustain severe injuries or die.
Turtles are also often killed or injured as a result of bycatch. Bycatch is the unintentional catch of a fish that is not the target fish. Usually they are caught in trawl nets while fishing for shrimps. Fortunately due to stricter regulations it has been ”estimated that the number of sea turtles accidentally caught and killed in United States coastal waters has declined by an estimated 90- percent since 1990.”(IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group).
The disease fibropapillomatosis, once rare, has emerged as a growing killer of sea turtles. “Fibropapillomatosis is afflicting sea turtles worldwide, it is the only known global disease of an animal”…….”Fibropapillomatosis looks like large warts with a “ cauliflower” texture that grow on all the soft tissue areas of a sea turtle, including the eyes and mouth”……..”can grow internally on the lungs, kidneys, liver and intestines”.( The Turtle Hospital). There is no cure other then surgery.
Only seven species of this beautiful animal remain on this planet. The good news is that in an effort to turn back the tide of extinction many environmental groups and scientists are engaged in educating the public and finding cures to diseases.