Endangered Turtles

by Emily Rose, age 11
Endangered Turtles Emily is an 11-year-old 6th grader who loves writing. She lives on the Upper West side with her sister, parents, and two cats. Emily plays soccer, and her favorite subject in school is math.

“Turtles are endangered, and that fact could affect the entire ecosystem if they go extinct. Though many of the problems for turtles are caused by other species, most are caused by humans.”

Turtles have been around for more than 100 million years, making them some of the most ancient creatures on earth. They even survived the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Though turtles can live for 80 years or more, they are still in trouble in terms of population in current times. Turtles are endangered, and that fact could affect the entire ecosystem if they go extinct. Though many of the problems for turtles are caused by other species, most are caused by humans.

Turtles face many kinds of danger from the time that they are born to the time of their deaths. Every year, thousands and thousands of hatchling turtles appear from their nests along the US South Shore and follow the Atlantic sea. Sadly, scientists estimated that only 1,000 to 10,000 of these turtles live to adulthood. The physical obstacles encountered by turtles are astounding. Nowadays, four of the seven kinds of turtles are endangered, one is critically endangered, and two are vulnerable. Throughout their life, sea turtles face many challenges that are made by both animals and humans. Predators such as raccoons, shellfish, and ants attack eggs and hatchlings, even at the nest. Once they grow, hatchlings create bite-sized meals for birds, shellfish, and many other predators in the sea. After growing to maturity, however, sea turtles are not faced with as many predator attacks except for the occasional shark attack. Yet, these predators are not the largest cause for sea turtle populations plummeting toward extinction.

Several different humans actions are responsible for turtle endangerment. Commercial fishing is one of the many things that humans are doing to cause turtles to be endangered. According to conserveturtles.org, 250,000 sea turtles are accidentally captured, injured, or killed by US fishermen each year. Many of these injuries and deaths take place while turtles are migrating through fishing areas. The turtles either get caught on the hooks because they are attracted to the bait, or they get caught in fishermen’s nets. Another thing that people are doing to affect turtle endangerment is that sometimes people kill turtles to eat their meat. Conserveturtles.org says that, “in many coastal communities, especially in Central America and Asia, sea turtles have provided a source of food.” During turtles’ nesting seasons, turtle hunters watch the beaches at night to look for female turtles looking to lay their eggs. These people will often wait until the female has laid her eggs, and then they will kill her and take the eggs.

Even less direct human actions can affect the turtles. For example, sea turtles mistake plastics and other garbage as food, (such as jellyfish) and ingest it. According to seeturtles.org, “hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales, and other marine mammals, and more than 1 million seabirds die each year from ocean pollution and ingestion or entanglement in marine debris.” Marine debris is man-made waste that is directly or indirectly disposed of in oceans, rivers, and other waterways. This mistake causes blockages within the turtles digestive system and eventual death. The waste that is dropped into the ocean tends to accumulate in something called a gyre. A gyre is an area of slow spiraling water and low winds. In the Pacific Ocean, there is a gyre called the North Pacific Gyre. Within this gyre, there is something called “The Great Garbage Patch.” This “garbage patch” is approximately the size of Texas with plastic debris extending about six meters under the water. It’s estimated that this “plastic island” contains 3.5 million tons of trash. This island shows how much plastic is collecting in the ocean and the amount of plastic going into the ocean is rising each year.

Though turtle extinction is a major problem, there are many things that we can do to save the turtles. The first thing that the average person can do is to reduce the amount of garbage you produce and clean up trash you see on the beach. By doing this there will be a lot less garbage in the ocean and a lot fewer turtles who die from a mistake of thinking a plastic bag is a jellyfish. Another thing that can be done for the turtles is to remove recreational equipment like chairs and umbrellas and to fill in holes and knock down sea castles in the sand (fisheries.noaa.gov). When these things are on the sand, they become obstacles for the nesting turtles and for the baby turtles to get to the ocean. A third thing that can be done to help turtles is to turn out all visible lights from the beach and avoid beach bonfires. According to defenders.org, “sea turtle hatchlings use light and reflections from the moon to find their way to the water at night.” That means that if they see the artificial light or the light from the fire, they will go toward it thinking it is the ocean. Finally, a chemical reduction can be used to help turtles. Even if you don’t know it, the chemicals you use on your lawn and in your home can somehow wash away into the ocean, killing plants and animals. Instead, use alternate products like biodegradable solutions.

It is important for people to know about the problem of endangered sea turtles and learn how to fix it. If people don’t help turtles soon, they will go extinct. If sea turtles go extinct, it will damage the ocean’s ecosystem. For example, sea turtles play an important role in keeping the seagrass bed healthy. When green sea turtles graze, they increase the productivity and nutrient content of seagrass blades. Without constant grazing, seagrass beds become overgrown and decompose and provide a good habitat for the growth of slime molds. Finally, if turtles went extinct, this would also affect humans. If there were no more turtles, then the jellyfish population would grow because sea turtles eat jellyfish. If this population grows, these jellyfish will travel in swarms across the ocean and do many things to affect us. For example, jellyfish may go to areas where there are a lot of fish and sting all of the fish, affecting what people eat and the fisherman’s catch. Therefore, the fishermen will not have any fish to sell, and they will lose a lot of money. Another thing that would happen if jellyfish population grows is that jellyfish may clog nuclear plant cooling water systems all over the world. This shows that our ecosystem is fragile, and we need to protect it. 

WORKS CITED

“Information About Sea Turtles: Threats to Sea Turtles.” Sea Turtle Conservancy, conserveturtles.org/information-sea-turtles-threats-sea-turtles/.

Noaa. “What Can You Do to Save Sea Turtles?” NOAA Fisheries, 6 June 2016, www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/what-can-you-do-save-sea-turtles.

“Ocean Plastic.” SEE Turtles, www.seeturtles.org/ocean-plastic.

Pattavina, Peter. “Sea Turtles.” Defenders of Wildlife, defenders.org/wildlife/sea-turtles.
“Tour De Turtles Spotlight on the Race’s Biggest Competitors: The Leatherbacks.” Sea Turtle Conservancy, 13 Sept. 2016, conserveturtles.org/tour-de-turtles-spotlight-races-biggest-competitors-leatherbacks/.

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