Righteous is the Turtle. Protect Him!

Green sea turtle on Hawaii's Punalu'u beach. Credit: Flickr (The Shifted Librarian)
The green sea turtle slowly clambered onto the black sand beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. Unconcerned with the small group of onlookers, the turtle found a nice spot to rest and soak in the morning sunshine. Nearby, another turtle had settled into a small pool protected from the surf by a ring of large rocks.

Far from the everyday hustle and bustle of my city life, the slow motion dance of these turtles was captivating. My book laid ignored on my beach towel, while I crouched on the rocks and watched their every move.  Other tourists came and went, my husband retreated back to the shade and his book, but I could have stayed there all day.

Perhaps it was because we usually don’t have the chance to be close to larger animals in the wild. Sure, we can see birds, squirrels and butterflies all around us.  But there’s just something extraordinary about communing with a fully grown sea turtle.

Or, perhaps it was the seemingly timeless nature of the turtles. My daily stresses seemed trivial in the presence of these animals. Sea turtles have been navigating our oceans and beaches for 150 million years. The trials and tribulations of humanity are a just a blink of time compared to what the turtles have witnessed.


Sea turtles at risk of extinction

Yet, today, sea turtles have every reason to be concerned about humanity. Turtles are one of many species bearing the brunt of the human footprint on the planet. Of the seven sea turtle species, three are listed as critically endangered (Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, leatherback), two as endangered (loggerhead and green turtle), and one as vulnerable (olive ridley) on the IUCN’s Red List.  The last species (flatback) lacks sufficient data to make a determination about its vulnerability.

Environmental hazards face the sea turtles at nearly every turn, as a recent NWF report Sea Turtle Homecoming, Class of 2010 outlines. Beach habitat is critical for sea turtle nesting, yet development on coasts and armoring of beachfront property with sea walls have significantly degraded or destroyed many important nesting areas. Meanwhile harmful fishing practices, marine debris, and oil spills have posed threats to the marine environments frequented by turtles. Indeed, during the 6 months following the BP oil spill, more than 600 sea turtles were found dead in the vicinity of the spill. 

To make matters worse, sea turtles now have to contend with climate change. Increasing air and ground temperatures have already affected the incubation of turtle hatchlings. Embryos developing at higher temperatures toward the top of the nest are more likely to become females, while those developing in the cooler lower reaches of the nest are more likely to become males. The ratio of females to males is already getting out of balance in some areas because of warming. At the same time, sea-level rise is eroding the beaches where turtles nest, threatening further habitat loss. 

Climate change is also affecting the marine environments and food sources upon which sea turtles depend. Of particular concern is the potential for increasing sea temperatures and ocean acidification to significantly degrade coral systems, an important feeding area for turtles.


Daily inspiration

Before leaving Hawaii, I purchased a print of two sea turtles made by a local artist.  In Hawaiian and translated in English below, the artist wrote “Righteous is the Turtle. Protect him!” Framed and hung at my bedside, this print is a daily reminder to slow down, see the big picture, and at the same time treasure the little moments. And, this print provides a daily inspiration to keep fighting for turtles and all the other righteous creatures.

For more inspiration, please check out these suggestions about how celebrate Endangered Species Day and to raise awareness about protecting endangered species.