The 23rd May is World Turtle Day!
Did you know, turtles are as old as dinosaurs! They can be dated back over to 100 million years ago; about the same time as the tyrannosaurus rex walked our land. They’re very unique in their anatomy by having exoskeletons, meaning that their shell is actually part of their skeleton and helps to protect their organs. A turtle cannot be separated from its shell, but it can retract its head inside as a form of protection. They also live for hundreds of years; the oldest is a turtle names Tu’i Malila who lived to be 188 years old on Tonga Island in the Pacific.
They live all over the planet by the sea, so long as it is warm and there is marine life for them to eat. Females lay their eggs in a nest buried in the sand and will return to the same beach they were born on. When hatched, baby turtles will make their way to the sea and begin their lives in the ocean. Males will never leave the water, but females will come back on land to lay eggs.
Currently, there are 7 species of marine turtle, nearly all of which are either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. This is down to illegal poaching for their skin, shells, eggs and meat as well as human’s encroaching on their habitats, meaning they can lay eggs, and being captured in fishing nets. Rising temperatures, due to Global Warming, also affects them as sand temperatures are higher and this affects the sex of hatchlings (meaning there is an imbalance in gender and they cannot reproduce).
Another thing threatening the lifespan of marine turtles is the amount of plastic in the oceans. Single use plastic, such as straws, can have a hugely detrimental effect on survival rates. Straws get lodged in turtles noses, restricting their breathing and limiting their ability to feed. Plastic from packaging can suffocate turtles as it can look like a jelly fish, which they love to eat. They will mistake it for food and try to eat it, but not be able to digest the plastic and eventually die as a result.
Plastic is not biodegradable; it can take up to 1,000 years for it to break down and less than 5% of all plastic used is recycled.
How can you help save turtles and other marine life?
There are two things you could do to drastically improve the quality of life for turtles and other marine life both now and for the future;
- Try not to use single use plastic (straws, plastic bags, food packaging) and recycle where possible. Many companies are stopping the manufacturing and use of single use plastics.
- Not encroaching on their natural habitats or purchasing things that have turtle in them, such as sunglasses or instruments. Always check the materials things are made from if you are not sure.
By doing these two things, you will be preventing the creatures from harming themselves, or dying as a result of ingesting plastics. If you become more aware of the materials used in your everyday objects, you are not sustaining the trade in which the turtles are poached for and therefore stopping the need for them to be poached.
If everybody does one thing to help, then that equals about 7 billion changes and no one can argue that that isn’t a lot!