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Turtles are a group of reptiles with a cartilaginous shell originating from their ribs, which shelters them from predators. Based on the temperature in the surrounding atmosphere, the temperature in their body fluctuates and therefore they are called ectotherms or cold-blooded. They are one of the most ancient groups of reptiles and like many other amniotes, they lay their eggs in the land even though some species are inhabitants of aquatic bodies.

The problem

Many factors have a hindering effect on the present descending trend of turtle numbers globally.

The most eminent cause is the usage of biological resources such as hunting, trapping, fishing/harvesting aquatic resources, logging, and wood harvesting, etc. Other human activities related to agriculture and aquaculture, fishing (in particular trawling without Turtle Excluder Devices and use of FADs with entangling nets), urbanization, contribute significantly in this regard. Likewise, man-made pollution created by mismanagement of waste products in domestic, industrial and agricultural sectors are noteworthy.

Moreover, fire control, dam, and water management are some natural systems modifying factors that are responsible for a reduction in the number of turtles

Last but not least, some species are threatened due to invasive non-native species, problematic native species or pathogenic diseases such as fibropaillomatosis which generates a giant cauliflower-like tumor in sea turtles.

Environmental Consequences

The latest IUCN data shows that there are 258 species of turtles around the globe. Most of these species live in the terrestrial environment amounting to 37.9%. It is followed by freshwater and both system inhabitants accounting for 28.9% and 27.4% of the species respectively. The rest of the species live in marine, marine, and freshwater, terrestrial and marine or all three systems.

Among all the species, 75 are currently in decline and 25 of them are from Sub-Saharan Africa which is also highest among all places worldwide. South and Southeast Asia, North America and Meso America are not far behind with 22, 20 and 18 species respectively

The United States currently houses the highest numbers of threatened species which is 20 and it is only two more than that of Mexico. Other major countries of concern in this regard are South Africa (11), Indonesia (11), India (11), Madagascar (10), Bangladesh (10), Vietnam (10), Thailand (10) Cameroon (9), Myanmar (9) and Malaysia (9). 

It is quite alarming that 19.4% and 17.4% of all the turtle species are enlisted as critically endangered and endangered respectively while 26% are vulnerable. The scenario is even direr as 3.1% of them are already extinct and 0.4% are extinct from the wild. China and Vietnam are at the top of the list of countries with critically endangered species amounting to ten and nine respectively. Besides, countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Ecuador are home to seven of these species. Among the already extinct species, four were from Mauritius.

Possible Solutions

Various steps could be taken to conserve the endangered and critically endangered turtle species.

First and foremost, land and water protection and management strategies including development of national parks, protected marine and in-land water zones especially in countries where such developments are yet to take place.

A measure which could significantly reduce turtles’ bycatch in fisheries would be the mandatory use of Turtle/Trawler Excluder Devices on trawler nets. This has proved to also reduce bycatch of unwanted species and waste.

Likewise, scientific discovery-based solution towards pathogenic disease is crucial in dealing with this ongoing situation. Similarly, ex situ conservation such as captive breeding, genome bank resource is a call of the day towards this end. 

150 countries around the world signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to restrict the trading of wild species like turtles if their existence is threatened and these regulations need to be implemented properly. Lastly, spreading awareness through formal education, training, and networking with relevant government and non-government bodies is very essential to save the turtle population. In Australia, the TurtleSAT app has been introduced for users to take pictures of turtles which allows exploiting the device’s GPS to record hotspots of turtle breeding whereas another app called FeralScan could be used to report about invasive feral animals so that they can be controlled. 

WSO's Activities and Initiatives

WSO activities and initiatives

WSO Friend of the Earth and Friend of the Sea projects are actively involved in protecting threatened turtles species as follows:

  • Promote products certified from sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. Fisheries certification requirements imply compliance with bycatch reduction measures, no bycatch of endangered species, implementation of TEDs and Fisheries Aggregating Devices (FADs) without entangling nets. Agriculture certification requirements request management plan for any endangered species on the agriculture site, conservation of biodiversity corridors and others which can protect turtles.
  • Introduction of the Turtle Safe logo to motivate fishing companies to avoid bycatch of sea turtes.
  • Launch a petition to make TEDs mandatory in all countries.
  • Awarenss campaigns at school and on socials to prevent plastic pollution in the ocean.

Call to action

  • Choose only Friend of the Sea and Friend of the Earth certified products from sustainable fisheries, aquaculture and agriculture.
  • Sign Friend of the Sea petition to make TEDs mandatory in all countries.
  • Elect politicians at local and national level who are concerned about environmental sustainability such as threatened turtle species and would introduce relevant legislation when in power. 
  • Promote development of captive breeding programs, national conservation parks and genome resource banks in countries of major concerns. The Mon Repos Conservation Park in Queensland, Australia is an example which is a protected area for marine turtles and contributing positively towards the breeding of threatened species such as loggerhead, flatback and green turtles. 
  • Fund research and development for the conservation biologists, evolutionists and pathologists whose primary focus is turtles.

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