Each of the six sea turtle species found in the United States are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Every day, sea turtles face a number of threats including pollution, boat strikes, hunting, accidental capture by fisheries, as well as the development of many coastal beaches that female sea turtles use for nesting sites.
But a growing threat to sea turtles is climate change. Rising sea levels and increased numbers of storms will likely limit the number of beaches that are suitable for nesting, and warmer temperatures could have a significant effect on sea turtle reproduction since the sex of sea turtle eggs is determined by the nest temperature. Warmer sands will result in more females, while cooler sands favor males. The magic temperature seems to be about 82°F, but this can vary depending on the species.
Temperatures are predicted to rise by 2.5-10°F in the next century, which could alter hatchling sex ratios especially in areas that are already warm like the Caribbean. In Florida, loggerhead nests are already producing more than 90% females, and further warming could mean that no males hatch from these nests at all.
In a new study, however, a group of researchers used screens to shade nests, and they found that it effectively reduced nest temperatures and produced a higher proportion of male hatchlings. By protecting beaches where males are more common and by applying artificial shading, if necessary, a healthy ratio of male and female sea turtles will be born.
Although shading may provide some relief to sea turtle populations already threatened with extinction, it is only a temporary solution to a much larger problem. To help take action against climate change, here are a few steps you can take at home and in your community.
When sea turtles are sick or injured, they can spend a few weeks or months recovering in sea turtle rehabilitation or research centers. The turtles are released back into the wild as soon as they have recovered enough so that they can live normally in the ocean.
But sometimes, sea turtles spend years or even decades away from the ocean. Still, even after sea turtles have spent long periods of time in captivity, they are able to return to the ocean and live like a wild turtle – even following complex migration routes.
Wild sea turtles migrate long distances to reproduce, as females return to the same beach where they hatched in order to lay their own eggs. Sometimes, these turtles cross entire oceans to get back to the beach where they were born. These long journeys inspired the Great Turtle Race, where leatherback sea turtles were tracked as they crossed the Pacific Ocean to nest.
Although not all sea turtles can be released from rehabilitation, healthy turtles that have spent a long time in captivity can still easily adapt back to ocean living. In 1996, researchers released a female loggerhead named Adelita, who had been raised in captivity for 10 years.
Researchers attached a satellite tracking device and were able to follow her incredible journey from Baja California to nesting sites in Sendai Bay, Japan – over 7,000 miles away! Even though she had spent her entire life in a research facility, she was still able to find her way to the area where she hatched.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
I’m pleased to report two victories this week for some of the oceans’ most threatened creatures.
First, Oceana and its allies won protections for endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles with the establishment of the first permanent safe haven for leatherbacks in the continental U.S. The area, nearly 42,000 square miles off the U.S. West Coast, protects the places where leatherbacks feed on jellyfish after swimming 6,000 miles across the ocean from Indonesia in one of the world’s greatest migrations.
Second, the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of protections for endangered Steller sea lions. These majestic marine mammals compete with large-scale industrial fisheries for food and continue to struggle for survival in the western Aleutian Islands.
The court decision came after Oceana and our allies pressured the federal government to address the declining Steller sea lions’ population by limiting bottom trawling in important areas. In 2010, the government agreed that existing protections were not adequate and put in place new rules to allow more food for sea lions in the Aleutian Islands.
Naturally, the fishing industry was displeased and sued to invalidate the closure. Oceana, Greenpeace and Earthjustice teamed up with the government to uphold the protections, and we learned yesterday that we won.
Thanks to this decision, Steller sea lions will continue to have a chance to rebound. There is still more work to be done, though, because the court required the government to conduct a new analysis of the impacts of its decision. This process should help us better understand the effects of large-scale commercial fishing on sea lions and other ocean resources.
Thanks you for the support that makes these victories possible.
As of today, the ocean’s largest sea turtle now has 41,914 square miles of Pacific Ocean it can call its own.
Oceana has been working for five years to protect habitat critical to the survival and recovery of the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle, and it paid off. Thanks to a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service, these magnificent reptiles will now be safeguarded off the U.S. West Coast.
Leatherback sea turtles migrate from Papua, Indonesia to the U.S. West Coast every summer and fall to feed on jellyfish — a 12,000-mile round-trip journey that is the longest known migration of any living marine reptile.
Sadly, these navigators encounter a gauntlet of threats as they make their journey across the Pacific such as poaching; ingestion of plastic bags which they mistake for their favorite food, jellyfish; and entanglement and drowning in longline and gillnet fishing gear.
Due to these threats Pacific leatherbacks have declined more than 95 percent since the 1980s and as few as 2,300 adult female western Pacific leatherbacks remain. There have already been localized extinctions of leatherback sea turtles in India and the Sri Lanka and Malaysian populations have nearly disappeared.
Leatherbacks from Papua, Indonesia and those that feed off the U.S. West Coast, are one of the turtle’s last strongholds in the Pacific Ocean. It is heartbreaking to think that a species that has been swimming the world’s oceans for more than 100 million years could indeed be wiped out by human actions.
Fishing gear should be killing fewer sea turtles, not more – and today we filed a complaint with the government saying just that.
Oceana’s complaint is in response to the U.S. government’s decision in October 2010 to allow eight East Coast fisheries to harm 14 times more threatened loggerhead sea turtles – raising the limit from 42 to 610.
Oceana is disputing the U.S. government’s decision to allow these fisheries to injure and kill more loggerhead sea turtles without adequately assessing the aggregate impacts of the fisheries on this species. The fisheries harm leatherback, Kemp’s ridley, and green sea turtles as well, and those species also would benefit from proper assessments of the fisheries’ impacts.
Oceana’s complaint addresses eight federal fisheries, including those for monkfish and for summer flounder, scup and black sea bass, which are responsible for the highest levels of sea turtle bycatch in the region.
Oceana is calling on the U.S. to implement simple solutions to protect and restore sea turtle populations in the Atlantic, including turtle escape hatches in trawls, adopting adequate monitoring of fisheries that catch sea turtles, capping the allowable catch of sea turtles and where necessary, closing areas for fishing when and where sea turtles are present.
On Sunday "60 Minutes" aired a great piece by Anderson Cooper on one of the most pristine coral reefs in the world, the Gardens of the Queen (or Jardines de la Reina) in Cuba.
Diving in, Cooper is not disappointed – he is surrounded by colorful corals, large sharks and a 200-lb critically endangered goliath grouper.
Oceana’s research vessel, the Ranger, sailed to the Gardens of the Queen in 2008, and documented a wide variety of marine life including sharks and sea turtles.
Check it out:
- Shrimp’s Dirty Little Secret: Our new report reveals that shrimp nets are illegally killing scores of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Q&A with Diane Lane: The actress talks about her love for the oceans – and the smell of the East River.
- A Precious Resource at Risk: What’s at stake if oil companies have their way with Belize’s crystal waters.
- Exploring the Pacific: A report from our recent West Coast expedition, including octopuses, orcas and more.
- Recipe from Jamie Oliver: The world-famous chef says you’d be mad not to try his coley korma recipe.
Check it out and let us know what you think!
Over the past few months we’ve been reporting how sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico have been drowning in shrimp nets in appalling numbers.
Well, we have an update today – and the news is mixed.
In response to the revelation this summer that hundreds of sea turtles were dying, the government has stepped up its enforcement effort. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), between mid-April, the start of shrimping season, and late October, NOAA’s enforcement officers inspected more than 444 vessels to see if they were equipped with turtle escape hatches (also known as turtle excluder devices, or TEDs).
The verdict? 371 of the boats had TEDs in compliance with the law – leaving 73 of them either without TEDs or with the hatches tied shut or improperly installed.
While we’re happy to hear that NMFS is keeping up with TED enforcement efforts, these new numbers mean that only 83% of the boats are following the rules in place for the Gulf shrimp fishery to protect sea turtles from extinction. And that is simply not good enough.
Learn more about Oceana’s sea turtle campaign and stay tuned!
Today’s trivia post is about an animal we talk about a lot: the loggerhead sea turtle.
Loggerheads are named for their broad heads and strong jaws, which they use to force open even large hard shellfish like conchs and giant clams. Loggerheads are found throughout tropical and warm temperate waters, and are the most common sea turtle in the Mediterranean. Loggerheads have a redder hue than most sea turtles, and they are often coated in barnacles and algae.
Because they drink salty sea water, they have developed glands near their eyes that can get rid of this salt, which makes females onshore to nest look like they’re crying. Scientists theorize that adult loggerheads use the Earth’s magnetism to navigate – how cool is that?
Loggerheads, which are considered endangered, are frequently caught accidentally by the fishing industry; other threats include beach erosion and development, pesticides, and oil spills. Oceana’s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch, protecting habitat, and promoting legislation that keeps turtles safe.
You can learn more about loggerhead sea turtles from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.
It’s our favorite sea turtle lover’s birthday today: Kate Walsh!
In lieu of gifts, her fans, also known as Walshies, have been sending donations to – you guessed it – Oceana. So far they’ve raised $400, and the deadline is midnight tonight. So there’s still time if you want to show Kate and sea turtles some love.
Per Kate’s blog: “All it takes is a dollar and a PayPal account. Just click on this link, hit the “Chipin” button, make your donation, and leave a personalised message for Kate! Yup – it’s that easy!”
A huge thanks to everyone who has donated, and happy birthday, Kate!