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Marine turtles have been evolving for over 100 millions years, surviving the asteroid impact that saw the end of the Cretaceous period over 65.5 million years ago. Today they are represented by only 7 living species but sea turtles were once one of the most diverse lineages of marine reptiles.
Hawksbill Turtles, Eretmochelys imbricata, are critically endangered (IUCN). Their population is decreasing as a result of severe fragmentation and continual decline of mature individuals. E. imbricata is circum-globally distributed throughout tropical and subtropical waters in The Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Ocean. This species can be found in the coastal waters of 108 countries and nests in 70 different countries.
E.imbricata is threatened both under the sea and on land.
In water threats include: Commercial fishing threatens E. imbricata through by-catch and by depleting critical fish stocks. The growing presence of recreational vessels increases the chance of boat strikes and artificial light may cause disorientation. Sea turtles are also highly impacted by plastic in the form of discarded nets which cause entanglements or through ingestion of micro and macro plastics. Decreased water quality as a result of run-off from land based sources will reduce the health and productivity of turtle populations. Sea turtles are also being impacted by severe weather events as the intensity of storms increase, particularly over abnormally high temperature surface waters as a result of global warming.
On land threats: Increasing sand temperatures are causing incubation periods to shorten, resulting in a higher percentage of female being born. This process is known as the 'feminisation' of a population. E. imbricata is also threatened by coastal development for for residential, commercial and tourism purpose as it can damage or fragment critical nesting sites as well as pour artificial light onto nesting sites, disorientating and causing stress to nesting females. Introduced pests such as foxes and wild cats and dogs also pose an increased risk of predation for hatchlings attempting to make it to water post hatch. Plastic pollution on beaches can also create added obstacles and hurdles, slowing or stopping hatchlings journey to the water.
So how can you help?
You can help by supporting critical breeding site protection and management. Vocalise your support within your local government or write to politicians who make policies in areas that should be protected. Support the sustainable management on species and the enforcement of fishing quotas. Use the AMCS sustainable seafood guide to reduce the likelihood of by-catch. Reduce your own plastic use and slow down in estuaries and bays where turtles may be resting.
Written by Kristen McSpadden
Image credited to Kristen McSpadden ©