Sea Turtles: Threats and Solutions

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Loggerhead Sea Turtle swimming

Out of the seven sea turtles species that exist, six inhabit the waters of Latin America and the Caribbean: the Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), and Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea). Sea turtles confront many threats: the destruction of the beaches they use for nesting; the overexploitation of their eggs, meat, and shells; being accidentally caught in fishing gear, and the drastic impact of climate change on land and in the sea.

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“Idun”, a Leatherback turtle being measured with a satellite transmitter

WWF researchers monitor sea turtles by satellite to learn about the effect of rising temperatures on turtle migrations. In the Arabian Gulf, turtles had abandoned their feeding sites as temperatures reached over 35?C. These findings suggest turtles in other parts of the world might also be affected and forced to alter their habits and feeding behaviors in similar circumstances.

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A baby green sea turtle hatching from its egg

Turtle hatchlings emerging from their nests and heading to sea face multiple predators. But they are also under threat by less visible forces. Several studies show that climate change may affect the sex ratio of sea turtles, as only females hatch in temperatures over 22?C. With fewer males, turtle populations will be less capable of surviving and reproducing. Extreme temperatures may also cause higher mortality rates during incubation periods and make turtles more vulnerable to extinction.

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A Biologist releasing Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings from a nest under study 

WWF, with the support of other scientific organizations, helps relocate turtle nests to protected hatcheries where temperatures as well as thermic gradients can be controlled. These ideal settings aid the embryotic development of turtles and allow for more balanced ratios of female to male hatchlings.

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A researcher measuring the temperature of an Olive Ridley turtle nest

In Colombia, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, extreme climate conditions and urban development have eroded many beaches where sea turtles nest. To avoid turtle eggs being washed away, as well as protect them from predators, WWF supports local experts in management measures including the relocation of nests to secure locations.

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Stopping the illegal trade of Hawksbill sea turtle shell

WWF has marine turtle conservation projects in Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Galapagos, Mexico, and Peru, among other countries. We work with local communities to promote sustainable fishing practices and with governments on legislation for turtle protection. In Colombia, WWF and its partners train artisans, merchants, and craft shops to stop the illegal trade of shells from critically endangered Hawksbill turtles.

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A Kemp’s ridley sea turtle released to sea. The local community joined in the celebration after scientists installed a satellite transmitter to follow her migratory journey.

In Mexico, WWF tracks the migratory routes and eating habits of Kemp’s ridley and Hawksbill sea turtles through the use of satellite tags. We are also applying innovations in fishing gear, such as the circle hook, to reduce the mortality rate of turtles trapped as bycatch. And through nesting centers, supported by WWF and others, up to 100,000 baby turtles are released each year with the collaboration of local families.