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Sea Turtles in danger from pollution

Turtles are some of the slowest animals on land. But in the ocean, sea turtles swim
quickly through the water. They begin their lives on the beach. They hatch from eggs
buried in the sand. As soon as they are born, the little turtles, called "hatchlings," hurry
back into the ocean. They do not return to the beach until they are ready to nest.Even
though sea turtles live in the water, they need air to breathe. They must swim up to the
surface to take in air. Most snack on jellyfish and other ocean creatures. All sea turtles are
This means that there are not many of them left. Sea turtles face many dangers,
especially from humans. People take over turtles' habitats by building hotels and houses
on the beach. Some people also bother nests when they are playing on the beaches. This
makes it difficult for mother turtles to find safe places to dig nests and lay their eggs in
the sand.In some areas of the world sea turtles are hunted by people. Their eggs are eaten
for food. Their shells are used to make jewelry and even guitars. Some suntan lotions are
made with turtle oil.
People can hurt sea turtles without even knowing it. Dumping garbage in the
ocean, like plastic bags and balloons, really hurts sea turtles. To a turtle, a floating plastic
bag or balloon can look like food. The plastic blocks other food from getting into their
stomachs, and the turtles starve. Sea turtles get very sick when they eat this kind of trash.
Some sea turtles have been found with tumors growing on their bodies, possibly a result
of marine pollution. Nearly 50 percent of leatherback sea turtles recently studied had
plastic bags or cellophane lodged in their stomachs or intestines. Dead sea turtles have
been reported containing everything from pieces of plastic milk jugs to bits of balloons,
items likely ingested when mistaken for jellyfish.
The dismal survival rate is due in part to the increasing number of hazards that
these creatures face at sea. Ocean pollution and commercial fishing continue to
inadvertently claim the lives of countless sea turtles as they travel throughout the ocean to
feed. Laws and policies need to be urgently put in place to manage activities in near-
shore as well as open seas.
Light pollution is at the heart of the decline of sea turtles. It impacts their nesting
habits... and the ability of young hatchlings to survive. Light pollution from local
communities is threatening large segments of the sea turtle population. Artificial lighting
like neon signs and street lights disturb turtles and confuse them. It is believed that turtles
navigate between the beach and the ocean using reflected light, and man made lights may
distort their vision.
Pollution can have serious impacts on both sea turtles and the food they eat. For
example, new research suggests that a disease now killing many sea turtles
(fibropapillomas) may be linked to pollution in the oceans and in nearshore waters. When
pollution contaminates and kills aquatic plant and animal life, it also destroys feeding
habitats for sea turtles. Oil spills and urban runoff of chemicals and fertilizers all
contribute to water pollution. An estimated 36% of all marine pollution from oil comes
through drains and rivers from cities.
Fertilizers are another huge marine pollutant. The runoff comes from farms and
lawns, causing eutrophication from the extra nutrients. Eutrophication is an explosion of
algal blooms that can deplete the water's oxygen and suffocate marine life.
Eutrophication has created enormous dead zones in many parts of the world, including
the Gulf of Mexico. Improper sewage disposal is another factor that causes
Because the ocean is so large, many assume that pollutants will be diluted and
dispersed to safe levels, but in reality they create havoc on the oceans' natural balance.
Some toxins even become more concentrated as they break down and enter the food
chain. Sea turtles are affected by pollution in more ways than one; they do not have to
directly ingest a tar ball, for example, to be affected by it. Small marine animals, on the
lower levels in the food chain, like plankton, absorb these chemicals as they feed. The
chemicals then accumulate in these animals' bodies, which makes the toxins much more
concentrated than in the surrounding water. These small animals are then consumed by
larger animals, like sea turtles, which continues to increase concentration levels of
chemicals and pollutants.
Oil spills from exploration for and transportation of oil and gas, as well as from
urban and agricultural run-off, pose substantial risks to marine turtles and to the habitats
they rely upon. Oil from spills and leaks that sit on the surface of the water doesn't really
stick to sea turtles like it would to other marine species. But oil can get in their eyes, on
their skin, and in their lungs when they come to the surface to breathe. Although turtles
maybe the toughest in terms of resisting some of the immediate physical damage from oil
spills, they have proved to be more vulnerable to chemical exposure that happens
indirectly through the food they eat. Not only do larger spills pose a problem for the
turtles, studies have shown that continuous exposure over time will weaken a sea turtle's
overall health, making it more susceptible to other dangers.
Because sea turtles are highly migratory—spending different life-history stages in
different habitats—sea turtles are vulnerable to oil spills at all life stages: eggs on the
beach, post-hatchlings and juveniles in the open ocean gyres, subadults in nearshore
habitats, and adults migrating between nesting and foraging grounds and on the nesting
A 2002 study hundreds of tiny hatchling sea turtles were captured offshore of
Florida's mid-Atlantic coast nesting beaches. Turtles were captured along the
“downwelling lines” that form along the western edge of the Gulfstream. The baby turtles
were among the floating mats of Sargassum that accumulates in these areas. 20% of the
hatchlings studied had ingested tar that had accumulated in their gut or on their mouth.
Smaller amounts of plastic were also found. In an similar 1994 study 63% of the baby
turtles had ingested tar.
Because sea turtles use both marine and terrestrial habits during their life cycles,
the affects of climate change are likely to have a devastating impact on these endangered
species. Climate change will impact sea turtle nesting beaches, their reproductive habitat.
Sea turtles' memories are "imprinted" with a magnetic map of the sandy beach where they
hatch. This gives them the unique ability to return to that same site decades later to repeat
their ancient nesting ritual. With melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels, these
beaches are beginning to disappear. The direct impacts of sea level rise include losing
beaches, ecologically-productive wetlands and barrier islands. Another impact is an
increase in nesting beach temperatures. The gender of sea turtles is determined by the
temperature at which eggs incubate. With increasing nest temperatures, scientist predict
that there will be more female that male hatchlings, creating a significant threat to genetic
diversity. Climate change will also increase water temperatures, changing ocean currents
that are critical to migrating turtles, especially for hatchlings that are mostly transported
by sargassum sea weeds traveling with the currents. Warmer ocean temperatures are also
likely to negatively impact food resources for sea turtles, and virtually all marine species.
Coral reefs, which are an important food source for sea turtles, are in great danger.
Almost half of the coral reef ecosystems in the U.S. are in poor or fair condition. As a
result of rising temperatures, coral reefs are suffering from a "bleaching" effect that kills
off parts of the reef.
Many people help to protect sea turtles. Volunteers watch the beaches to protect
turtle nests and eggs. Scientists put special tags on some sea turtles to track them. The
tags allow scientists to learn more about where the turtles go.
Although these threats to sea turtles and destruction of their habitats seem almost
too big to overcome, there are many things within our control that can be changed.
Greater public awareness and support for sea turtle conservation is the first priority. By
learning more about sea turtles and the threats they face, you can help by alerting
decision-makers when various issues need to be addressed.