Turtles This family has withstood the test of time

Turtles have been around for about 230 million years
(Dobbs 1). In that time, they have seen the rise and fall of the dinosaurs and
the rise of mankind. Marine turtles have been around for about 65 million years
(Dobbs 1). This family has withstood the test of time and is being threatened
by human’s impact on the sea. All six of the marine turtles occurring on the
shores of America are at least threatened. Marine turtles are very important to
the ecosystem but humans are endangering this family directly and indirectly;
if humans do not stop their destructive habits, we may lose the influence of
marine turtles on the earth’s seas.

Marine turtles play
an important role in the ocean’s ecology and without turtles we may see an
ecological collapse in the oceans. The marine turtles are one of the few
animals in the sea that eat sea grass (Godfrey). Marine turtles act as grazing
animals that cut the grass short and help maintain the health of the sea grass
beds (Godfrey). Over the past decades, there has been a decline in sea grass
beds. This decline may be linked to the lower numbers of Marine turtles
(Godfrey). Sea grass is important because it is a breeding ground for many
species of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans (Godfrey). Beaches and sand dunes
are known to not have alot of nutrients. When Marine turtles come to land they
well bury their eggs in the sand of the beaches. Not every nest will hatch, not
every egg in a nest will hatch, and not all of the hatchlings in a nest will
make it out of the nest (Godfrey). All the dead hatchlings make a good source
of nutrients for the beaches; the shells of the hatchlings make a good source
as well (Godfrey). If marine turtles were to go extinct, then the beaches and
sand dunes will lose alot of nutrients.

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Many cultures have depictions of marine turtles. Ancient Chinese writings
described marine turtle as being exotic delicacies (Musick 5). Ancient Romans
and ancient Greeks used turtle scutes for combs and brushes used mainly by the
Upper class (Musick 5). “The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped the
sea and its animals. On many occasions marine turtles were depicted”
(Shore).

Marine turtle’s habitats are always being altered. Either they are lost for
human recreation or altered by human structures. Turtles are affected by these
habitat alterations in a variety of negative ways. Beach armoring is hardened
structures that are built to protect sand dune properties (Musick 389). Beach
armoring, if ridged enough, are detrimental to the nesting turtle’s ability to
go to the nesting sites (Musick 389). This can make the nesting turtle decide
not to nest that particular year. The biggest threat of beach armoring is the
nesting area loss (Musick 389).

Beach nourishment is another way the marine turtle’s habitat is altered. Beach
nourishment is where humans dump or pump sand onto eroded beaches (Musick 389).

This usually only happens on more developed beaches. Beach nourishment is
better than beach armoring, but it replaces rather than maintains the original
nesting sites (Musick 390). Beaches that have been nourished may have high
levels of clay, silt, and shell that make it too compact for hatchlings to get
out off the nest (Musick 390). Different elements in the pumped or dumped sand
may have an effect on the sex of the hatchling; since the sex is determined by
temperature (Dobbs 390).

Vehicles pose many threats to turtles in general. Marine turtles are threatened
by vehicles. Heavy vehicles on beaches can crush the developing eggs and
pre-emergent hatchlings (Musick 390). Tire tracks from vehicles can entrap the
hatchlings making them exhausted and thus, easier prey for predators.

“Loggerhead hatchlings can escape from a 3-cm-deep footprint, but are
unable to escape a tire rut of similar depth” (390).

Human foot traffic effect on marine turtles has not been largely studied;
perceived impacts are used as a foundation for translocating nests (390). Human
foot traffic has the potential of destroying marine nests and harm emerging
hatchlings (391). In the past human visitations at night have been detrimental
to nesting turtles and hatchlings but, “turtle watchers” have greatly
reduced this effect. Turtle watchers are volunteers that literally watch
hatchlings and nesting turtles (391). They are providing educational and conversation
potentials (391). 
“There is some indication that the strong economic incentive to attract a
large number of tourists to some important nesting beaches maybe at odds with
the need to minimize disturbance to nesting females and emergent
hatchlings” (391).

Artificial lighting can come from a variety of different sources; ranging from
street lamps to hotel rooms on the beach. Artificial lighting disrupts
important behaviors, including nest site choice and the nocturnal sea finding
behavior of both hatchlings and nesting females (391). Direct and indirect
experimental evidence has shown that artificial lighting on beaches deters
marine turtles from nesting (391). Nesting that does happen around artificial
lighting can have a high mortality (Klemens 108). Hatchlings are attracted to
artificial lightings and are overcome by exhaustion, dehydration, and predation
(Klemens 109). “Effects of lighting vary with the lunar cycle and are
greatest during the new moon period” (109). There are many solutions to this
conundrum. Light sources can have lower wattage levels, or be shielded,
redirected, lowered, recessed, or repositioned to shield the light from the
beach (110). Yellow tinted incandescent light bulbs are a good alternate
solution (110). In conclusion, artificial lighting has a damaging effect on
marine turtles and should be noticed by humans and changed to eliminate an
affect on marine turtles.

Nine percent of marine turtle strandings in United States, Gulf of Mexico,
Atlantic costs, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands between 1986
and 1993 were related to propeller and boat strikes (Musick 392). On the coasts
of Florida, 1991 to 1993 about 338 of 2156 strandings were caused by boat
strikes (392). Some of the strikes could have been after the death of the sea
turtle; the data shows that this is an important effect on marine turtle’s
mortality rate. 
Shockingly, the Sargasso Sea by itself has about 70,000 metric tons of tar
(Musick 392). Marine turtles are constantly around oil pollution and tar due to
the currents in the seas. “…Marine turtles that continuously surface for
air in an oil slick to breathe would experience less dive times and their
growth rate is reduced” (Shore). Marine turtle’s method of breathing
allows petroleum vapors into its lungs and sometimes they will eat a
contaminated food or tar ball which brings it into their intestines (Milton).

Nesting beaches can be affected by oil and tar pollution, as well. The oil
deposits on beaches could affect the embryos in the egg clutch (Milton). Also
the oil could present a deadly hazard to hatchlings. Oil and tar always affect
the seas in a negative way. The impact that they have on marine turtles is a
major concern and should not be taken lightly.

Humans have and still are polluting the seas with plastic and non-biodegradable
debris. Many animals in the sea are affected by debris, this is not excluding
marine turtles. Marine turtles are entangled in debris which ultimately leads
to their death. Entanglement to marine turtles usually happens with deserted
fishing gear (Musick 396). Leatherback turtles have been found trapped in
active crab pots, lobster pots, and even in whelk lines (398). Plastic
production and use has increased over the past forty years. There has been an
increase of the metric tons of plastics in the oceans (398). Entanglement can
reduce movement which makes the turtle more venerable to predation. Also the
debris can get entangled around there heads or flippers and kill the sea turtle
(398).

Ten percent of all mortalities of marine turtles are because of shrimp trawling
(Musick 399). Shrimp trawling is, according to research, the biggest factor in
mortalities of marine turtles related to human impacts. Marine turtles get
stuck in these traps and are not able to get air and they die. Shrimp trawling
was killing such an enormous amount of marine turtles, so that in 1978 the
United States National Marine Fisheries Service and Sea Grant Program developed
the turtle excluder device (TED) (Musick 399). Then in 1987 regulations
required seasonal TED use in off shore shrimp trawlers ranging from the coast
of North Carolina to Texas (Milton 115). TED has dropped the morality rate of
many of the marine turtle species. On the coast of South Carolina; the TED is
believed to reduce the annual mortality rate of loggerhead turtles by
forty-four percent (Musick 399). 
Marine turtles are important to the ecosystem of our oceans but humans
constantly impacting this super family. Although most of these impacts are
unintentional, they still impact marine turtles in a detrimental way. If humans
do not change their actions the earth may lose this important and interesting
super family.