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Sea Turtles: What is killing them?

A majestic creature roams the waters. Its graceful movements awe the eyes. Its shell is decorated in beautiful colors. Its presence is powerful enough to take anybody’s breath away. Sadly, its numbers are dwindling. They are becoming few. Sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico seem to be disappearing. And who is to blame you ask? Who should you point your finger to? Look in a mirror, for the major culprit of this awful crime is mankind.
The Gulf of Mexico stretches over three countries: the continental U.S, Mexico and Cuba. The green sea turtle, hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback and Kemp’s ridley inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. All of these sea turtles are either endangered or threatened. The following are the threats that they face.
Lights. Big, bright lights. Artificial lightning is a threat to sea turtle hatchlings. When turtles hatch, their instinct is to follow the brightest light. Usually, that light is the moon being reflected on the ocean. But as more hotels, homes and businesses are being built next to beaches, they produce more light, out-shining the moon. Hatchlings are now heading towards streets, making their possibilities to live to adulthood slim. As the hatchling goes further into civilization, the probability of it getting ran over by a vehicle or eaten by a predator grows. Also, lights discourage a nesting female. The majority of the sea turtles nest at night and the artificial lighting confuses them, making them think that it is day time. Because of this, the female sea turtles return to the sea without nesting. So, if you live by the beach follow these instructions during the sea turtles’ nesting season (summer or spring, except the leatherback which nests in winter and fall):
Draw the blinds on windows, making sure no light seeps through.
Use as little light as possible, during the night.
Coastal armoring prevents females from nesting in suitable places. As coastal development continues to increase in growth, they built walls around the building to prevent the sand from eroding. This helps the coastal community, but it threatens the environment. Because of sea walls, sea turtles are left with little room to nest. This resorts to them nesting in ill places. Often the eggs are washed up by the waves, killing the hatchlings before they are even born. Even worse, some females do not even bother nesting on armored beaches. The sea walls are meant to protect the beach from erosion, but it just unbalances the environment. A way that coastal armoring can be avoided is to plant native plants on the beach. This will help prevent erosion without taking away sea turtle nesting grounds.
Another way to prevent erosion in beaches is by performing what is called beach nourishment. Beach nourishment is when they add tons of sand to a beach. This threatens sea turtles, because it buries the eggs deep underground, suffocating the hatchlings. Also, by dumping alien sand on the beaches, it can change the sea turtles’ gender. A higher percentage of female sea turtles are born in warm temperatures and a higher percentage of male sea turtles are born in cold temperatures. The result of beach nourishment is that it unbalances the number of females and males in the Gulf of Mexico. It makes it more difficult for sea turtles to mate, thus decreasing sea turtle population. To stop nourishment, erosion has to decrease, so it will be helpful if more native plants are planted.
What consequences will occur due to leaving furniture on the beach? Discarded chairs, tables and toys that are on the beach discourage the females from nesting. When they stumble upon the foreign objects, the females retreat back to the sea. When turtles hatch, they make their short yet deadly journey towards their haven: the sea. Not only do predators threaten to kill these hatchlings, but also humans. Driving in beaches is also dangerous to sea turtles especially at night. People run over hatchlings while they are trying to get to the ocean. Also, when the vehicle drives over the sand, it compresses the sand. That does not allow the sea turtle to come out of its nest, suffocating it. Noise can spook a nesting female and she goes back to the ocean without laying her eggs. If you live near the beach or are just going there for a visit, do the following:
Do not leave any furniture such as chairs or any other items that might spook sea turtles.
Do not drive on beaches during the sea turtles’ nesting season.
Do not make a plethora of noise that can potentially spook a sea turtle.
Coastal areas: what a beautiful place to start a business, home or tourism attraction. Have you ever wondered how the entrepreneurs obtain the land? They take the land from beaches, destroying nesting sites. If sea turtles don’t have a place to nest, what would happen to their population? It will plummet drastically. Speak up against construction in nesting beaches, before the sea turtles lose their home.
Do you ever ponder what happens to the trash that you do not throw away properly? Well, it can not only end up in a landfill, but it can also end up in the ocean. For example, plastic bags are a great danger to sea turtles, especially leatherbacks. Leatherbacks consume the plastic bags, thinking it’s jellyfish. They are unable to vomit the plastic due to the shape of their spine and get sick or die. Also the plastic can break down into smaller pieces and enter the food chain which is even more dangerous. This is a major threat to sea turtles, because marine pollution can exist anywhere in the sea.
There is a disease called fibropapilloma that is killing sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. Fibropapilloma is mainly seen in warm waters. The effects of fibropapilloma are that sea turtles develop variant sized tumors on their external and internal tissues. External tumors show up mainly around or on their shoulders and eyes. They prevent them from moving and can often lead to blindness. Internal tumors are frequently deadly, while external tumors can be surgically removed. Even so, it is still possible for the sea turtle to contract the disease a second time. In Florida, about more than fifty percent of turtles have fibropapilloma. Not much is known about this fatal virus. It is contagious. Sea turtles can contract it from sea turtles. It is still unknown how exactly the disease is obtained. Scientists are continuing to search for cures and reasons for fibropapilloma. Support research for this virus. Also, if you happen to find an infected sea turtle on the shore of a beach, contact your local police or fire department.
Oil spills also cause marine pollution. In fact, two of the world’s worst oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico: the BP 2010 oil spill and Pemex oil spill in 1979. Approximately 1.3 million gallons of crude oil are being released in American waters by small boats or oil pipes each year. These are some of the possible explanations to why oil spills occur: human error, severe weather conditions, faulty equipment and accidents occurring when they move the oil. The Coast Guard, U.S Environmental Protection Agency and some volunteer organizations are in charge of cleaning up oil spills. They clean up by using skimmers that separate the oil from the water. Then sorbents are used to gather up all the oil. After that the workers take out the oil with rakes or forks. Sometimes if the damage is great on the beach, they just dig up and remove all the sand that contains oil. Also, a natural way oil can be cleaned from the sea is when oil-eating bacteria consume the oil from the oil spills.
This pie chart (bottom) shows the number of sea turtles that were oiled during the six months of the BP oil spill. Of the five sea turtles living in the Gulf of Mexico, the Kemp’s ridley was the most affected. The top chart shows the percentage of Kemp’s ridley that died because of the BP oil spill. These charts are based on the information from an article from the National Wildlife Federation called “Oil Spill Impacts on Sea Turtles”.

Oil spill harm sea turtles in that they could eat contaminated food and get sick and die. It is critical that the oil does not get into the food chain, because that just makes it more dangerous not only for sea turtles, but for all marine animals. As sea turtles surfaces the water to breathe, the oil could get in their eyes, lungs and skin. Female sea turtles might not want to nest in oiled beaches and they could get more oil on them if they enter an oiled beach. The result of oiled eggs can be deformed and undeveloped hatchlings. Also, when the hatchlings are going to the ocean, they could get oil on themselves. Another consequence of having oiled beaches is that it changes the eggs’ incubation temperatures, unbalancing the number of females and males sea turtles.
The reason why offshore drilling exists is because the U.S does not have enough oil to support its needs. Offshore oil production is promising and helps prevent importing oil from other countries, boosting the American economy. So, do not use that much oil. These are the actions you should take to decrease the oil needs in the United States:
Reuse, reduce and recycle
Carpool with classmates or co-workers.
Do not waste unnecessary energy at home. If you are not using a light, turn it off.
Oil spills, run-off chemicals and fertilizers can all cause what is known as eutrophication. Eutrophication is when algae blossoms get depleted of their oxygen. There is not enough oxygen to sustain marine life. These areas that have little oxygen are called “dead zones” for their inability to sustain life. These “dead zones” exist in the Gulf of Mexico. It kills sea turtles and their food. To help prevent eutrophication, there has to be less oil consumption, people need to use organic fertilizer and learn how to dispose properly of chemicals to prevent them from reaching the sea.
Climate change does not only affect polar bears, you know? Sea turtles are affected by global warming as well. When and if sea turtles grow to be adults, they come back to the beach they hatched. Because the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting, it increases the sea level. Beaches begin to disappear due to the increasing sea level. Therefore, they have no place to nest. It is predicted that if the temperature continues to rise, Florida will lose 100 feet of its beaches. The temperature of the sand determines the sea turtles’ gender. When the temperature increases, so does the temperature of the sand. That means that there will be more females than males, making it more difficult to reproduce. Also the high temperatures are killing the sea turtles’ habitat: coral reefs. Again, to stop and slow down global warming, you need to recycle, reduce and reuse. Help plant native plants in beaches to create better nesting areas. Use less energy and switch to less energy-consuming appliances or light bulbs.
Commercial has severely decreased the sea turtle population. Shrimp trawling has killed the most sea turtles than any other threat. It killed 50,000 loggerheads and 5,000 Kemp’s ridleys. The shrimp trawling boats have long nets that stretch over miles. Often, sea turtles would get entangled in it. If forty five minutes passed and they haven’t reached the surface, they would die. A solution to this problem was to install TED’s (Turtle Excluder Devices). This lessened the mortality rate by 50%. But the damage was done and it seems that the Kemp’s ridleys survival is still in danger. Shrimp trawling vastly effected all sea turtle population.
Up until the 1970’s, people in Mexico used to eat sea turtles after Easter. Now, under the ESA of 1973, it is illegal to harm any sea turtle or sea turtle egg and to have any part of a sea turtle such as jewelry made out of its shell. Disobeying the ESA can charge you with fines up to 20,000 dollars. The black market sells sea turtles shells, especially hawksbill shells, and sea turtle meat. Sometimes people even train their domestic pets to gather the sea turtle eggs. This has caused the sea turtle population to plummet. To help eliminate this threat, do the following: inform the police if you witness anybody or anything harming sea turtles and do not purchase any sea turtle products.
The problems these sea turtles face are very real. If we do not act soon, there might not be any sea turtles to protect. Start being more conscious about your home: Earth. The actions you take or don’t take can make an enormous difference.

Works Cited
Desonie, Dana. Climate: Causes and Effects of Climate Change. New York, NY: Chelsea House, 2008. Print.
"Fibropapilloma." The Turtle Hospital. 11 May 2008. Web. 18 Jan. 2012. <>.
"General Facts about the Gulf of Mexico." GulfBase: Resource Database for Gulf of Mexico Research. Ed. F. Moretzsohn, J.A. Sanchez Chavez, and J.W Tunell, Jr. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. <>.
Kusky, Timothy M. Climate Change: Shifting Glaciers, Deserts, and Climate Belts. New York: Facts on File, 2009. Print.
Mooney, Carla. Oil Spills and Offshore Drilling. San Diego, CA: ReferencePoint, 2011. Print.
"Oil Spill Impacts on Sea Turtles." National Wildlife Federation. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <>.
Sea Turtle Conservancy: Saving Sea Turtles since 1959. Web. 02 Feb. 2012. <>.
"Sea Turtles: Conservation and Research." SeaWorld/Busch Gardens ANIMALS - HOME. Web. 18 Jan. 2012. <>.
"Sea Turtles: Longevity and Causes of Death." SeaWorld/Busch Gardens ANIMALS - HOME. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. <>.
"Sea Turtles: Reproduction." SeaWorld/Busch Gardens ANIMALS - HOME. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. <>.
Spotila, James R. Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2004. Print.
"Turtles in the Gulf of Mexico." Padre Island. Web. 7 Mar. 2012. <>.

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This article has 1 comment. Post your own now! said...
Nov. 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm
I love Turtles! I think you should write more about turtles
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