If You’re Born a Sea Turtle, the Odds Are Never in Your Favor

Climate change, ocean pollution, and poaching threaten the marine animals, but a rescue campaign is under way.
Sep 16, 2014·
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

If there’s a canary in the climate-change coal mine, it’s the sea turtle. Rising ocean levels are eroding the beaches the imperiled animals use to lay their eggs, and a warmer world will skewer gender ratios and reduce genetic diversity as hotter temperatures result in more female hatchlings, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, a Florida nonprofit.

Global warming, however, is just one of myriad threats faced by sea turtles. Ocean plastic pollution is choking and drowning sea turtles, and human development is destroying their habitat. As Pete Bethune of The Operatives points out in his latest Captain’s Vlog (above), poachers in Costa Rica and elsewhere are also wiping out entire beaches of turtle eggs that they steal to sell to restaurants.

The result: Only one out of 1,000 baby sea turtles survives to adulthood, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. That is, if they even get to hatch. On some beaches, only 10 out of 100 eggs laid by a sea turtle will hatch, given predation by birds and other animals, including humans.

A study of loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean Sea published in May found that the local population was declining owing to the animals being inadvertently caught in fishing nets as so-called bycatch.

“Results suggest that the survival probabilities for Mediterranean loggerheads, especially in some areas, are lower than would be expected from a healthy population,” the researchers wrote. “One of the major global threats to sea turtles is incidental bycatch, although not all animals die in the process. This is particularly acute for the loggerhead sea turtle.”

Sea turtles don’t just face threats in Costa Rica and other countries where their meat is prized as food and their shells are used to make jewelry. The FWS, for instance, classifies all six species of sea turtles that nest on U.S. beaches as threatened or endangered.

There’s hope, however. Bethune and his fellow conservationists in 2012 helped persuade the South American nation Trinidad and Tobago to ban turtle hunting.

“We’re now looking to engage with the rest of the countries that still allow turtle hunting,” said Bethune.

New episodes of The Operatives air Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Pivot TV.