Why are turtles important?
Turtles are keystone species that play a pivotal role in maintaining ecological balance within various ecosystems. Their significance spans across biodiversity, ecosystem health, and human culture.
Biodiversity conservation: Turtles contribute significantly to biodiversity as one of the oldest vertebrates, with various species existing in diverse ecosystems, including oceans, rivers, wetlands, and forests.
Ecosystem balance: Turtles act as environmental indicators, reflecting the health of ecosystems. Their presence indicates a balanced ecosystem and contributes to nutrient cycling by feeding on various organisms.
Habitat maintenance: Turtles play a vital role in habitat maintenance. Some species, like sea turtles, help control seagrass beds, while others, like freshwater turtles, regulate algae growth in water bodies.
Food webs: They occupy various positions in food webs, serving as both predators and prey, thereby influencing population dynamics of other species.
Cultural significance: Turtles hold cultural significance in many societies and are often revered as symbols of longevity, wisdom, and stability.
Sea Turtle Quick Facts
CLASSIFICATION: Part of Testudines order, comprising various species adapted to marine environments.
APPEARANCE: Possess streamlined bodies with flippers for swimming and a shell providing protection.
HABITAT & DISTRIBUTION: Primarily oceans and coastal areas (for nesting) but spending most of their lives at sea.
LIFESPAN & REPRODUCTION: Decades. Nest every few years.
DIET & BEHAVIOR: Seagrasses, jellyfish, and other marine organisms. Undertake long migration journeys.
7 Types of Sea Turtles
Turtles exhibit remarkable diversity, with numerous species inhabiting various ecosystems worldwide. Below are the seven species of sea turtles, click on each one to find out more:
Figure 1: Size comparison between seven existing sea turtle species alongside an average adult human and an extinct sea turtle species, Archelon. Illustration derived from the National Aquarium of Baltimore's collection (source: https://www.aqua.org/blog/2015/April/oceans-seven).
Lifecycle of Sea Turtles
The turtle life cycle is an incredible journey progressing through vital stages. It starts with females laying eggs in sandy nests, leading to hatchlings' emergence after incubation. These tiny turtles venture from nests to water, adapting and learning survival skills as juveniles. Maturing into sub-adults, they face challenges, eventually reproducing as adults, contributing to their species. Understanding these stages is crucial for conserving these fascinating reptiles in their habitats.
Figure 2: Life cycle of a sea turtle. Illustration derived from Research Gate. (source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-life-cycles-of-sea-turtles-Source-http-wwwsrilankaseaturtlescom-varietieshtml_fig1_320978908).
Habitat & Ecosystem
Sea turtles predominantly inhabit tropical and subtropical oceans, with species like the Green and Loggerhead turtles known for their extensive travels across these vast waters.
Marine Environments: In marine ecosystems, sea turtles contribute significantly to the health of coral reefs by maintaining the balance of seagrasses and algae, their primary food sources. They serve as critical components in these delicate underwater habitats.
Nesting and Migration: Sea turtles often return to specific coastal areas to lay their eggs, perpetuating the cycle of life. Some species undertake extensive migrations, navigating across oceans, shaping and interacting with different marine environments along their journey.
Foraging Behaviors: Their foraging habits, primarily feeding on jellyfish, crustaceans, and seaweeds, regulate populations of various marine organisms, influencing the dynamics of the ocean's food webs.
Understanding the interconnectedness of sea turtles with their marine habitats highlights the critical importance of conservation measures, safeguarding these oceanic ecosystems and ensuring the enduring presence of these magnificent creatures in our seas.
Challenges Across Life Stages
Predation: Natural predators like monitor lizards, birds, and crabs target vulnerable eggs on nesting beaches.
Human Disturbance: Coastal development and human activities disrupt nesting sites, jeopardizing egg survival.
Poaching: Illegal collection of eggs and nests by poachers remains a significant threat to sea turtle populations.
Nest Predation: Newly hatched turtles encounter threats from predators while making their way to the ocean.
Artificial Lighting: Man-made lights can disorient hatchlings, diverting them away from the sea.
Boat Traffic: Hatchlings face hazards from boat traffic along coastal areas, impacting their safe journey to the water.
Predators: Juvenile turtles confront threats from marine predators like sharks and large fish.
Habitat Loss: Coastal development leads to habitat degradation, impacting feeding areas and nesting sites.
Boat Traffic: Increased boat traffic in coastal waters poses risks to juvenile turtles navigating these areas.
Bycatch: Accidental capture in fishing gear, particularly in trawls and longlines, is a significant threat.
Pollution: Exposure to marine debris such as plastics and oil spills poses health risks to sub-adult turtles.
Poaching: Sub-adult turtles are targeted by poachers for their meat and shells, further threatening their populations.
Boat Traffic: Sub-adult turtles face dangers from boat collisions, affecting their survival in marine habitats.
Habitat Degradation: Human-induced damage to crucial mating and foraging habitats negatively affects adult turtles.
Illegal Harvesting: Adult turtles are exploited for their meat, eggs, and shells in the illegal wildlife trade.
Boat Traffic: Increased boat activity near mating and foraging areas puts adult turtles at risk of injury or mortality due to collisions.
BTC Conservation Efforts
Following the nesting of mother turtles, the eggs are relocated carefully to the hatchery. The hatchery is regularly maintained for ideal environmental conditions, including precise temperature, humidity levels, and quality of sand, to replicate the natural nesting environment with precision.
Education & Outreach
Extensive public awareness campaigns and educational programs are conducted by the team. These initiatives aim to educate local communities, tourists, and stakeholders about the significance of sea turtles, fostering a sense of responsibility towards their conservation.
Restoration & Protection of Habitat
The team actively engages in habitat restoration projects aimed at improving nesting areas, foraging grounds, and critical marine environments. Through initiatives focusing on beach preservation, coral reef conservation, and ecosystem restoration, the team endeavors to safeguard sea turtles' vital habitats.
Research & Monitoring
Comprehensive scientific research and monitoring initiatives are conducted to collect essential data on sea turtle behavior, nesting behaviors, migration paths, and encountered threats. This data serves as a cornerstone for devising impactful conservation tactics and strategies.
Volunteer & Experiential Program
Bubbles Turtle Conservation (BTC) offers short and long-term volunteer and experiential programs aiming to cultivate a sense of ownership and active involvement in sea turtle conservation. These programs empower individuals to contribute effectively to protective measures, fostering hands-on participation in preserving sea turtle populations.
Collaboration & Partnership
Collaborating with other conservation organizations (e.g. Fuze Ecoteer) and governmental bodies (e.g. Department of Fishery), Bubbles Turtle Conservation (BTC) forges partnerships to amplify efforts and promote a united approach towards sea turtle conservation.