By Dr. Becker
Today, May 23, is World Turtle Day, which is a yearly event to celebrate and increase awareness of turtles. World Turtle Day was created in 2001 by American Tortoise Rescue (ATR), an organization that has rescued and rehomed over 3,000 turtles since 1990.
"This day is a good way to educate people about how to care for turtles, and to learn what danger they're in and how to be more aware of what they need," ATR co-founder Susan Tellem told the Huffington Post.
Turtles and Tortoises Face Several Threats to Their Survival
The threats to turtles and tortoises include the exotic food trade, the pet trade, global warming, and habitat loss. The illegal pet trade, in particular, has a significant impact as turtles and tortoises are removed from their natural habitat and transported long distances, often unsafely and inhumanely. Transport itself is very stressful to turtles, and many die en route.
And when it comes to marine turtles, according to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), all species are currently classified as either threatened or endangered. There are seven known sea turtle species, six of which can be found in the U.S.
"Bycatch," which is the accidental capture of untargeted species by fishermen, is a major threat to sea turtles that get caught up in gear intended to catch fish. The turtles also collide with water vessels, and habitat destruction of nesting beaches is yet another threat.
Evidence That Conservation Efforts Are Working
Fortunately, there are a number of programs in the U.S. committed to turtle conservation. For example, the NOAA is involved in efforts to reduce bycatch, research marine environments, and develop recovery plans. The goal of all the programs is to successfully remove marine turtles from the endangered list.
And there are some indicators of success, including increases in certain species from their dwindling populations back in the 1960s and 70s. One success story is the Kemp's ridley sea turtle whose habitat is the Gulf Coast. This turtle was on the brink of extinction 50 years ago, but through a concentrated effort, the species have grown in number in recent years. The Kemp's ridley sea turtle is still not recovered or off the endangered list, but populations have been steadily increasing.
How You Can Help
According to Susan Tellem of American Tortoise Rescue, one of the biggest things concerned citizens can do is not buy turtles from pet stores. If you're looking for a new pet, there are lots of turtles available for adoption, so check local turtle rescues and also Petfinder.
If you happen to come across a turtle that is native to your area, release it into the wild. If you find a turtle that isn't native, ATR says to soak it in tepid water and place it in a box with a lid. Water turtles can be safely left out of water for three to four days. Keep the box in a safe, quiet place where the turtle won't be disturbed, and contact a turtle rescue organization for help in finding it a new home, and caring for it in the meantime.
You can help sea turtles by not leaving trash on the beach, and by watching for them if you're out on the water in a boat or other watercraft. If you have access to nesting beaches, follow lighting restrictions to avoid disorienting hatchlings, and in general, avoid disturbing nesting areas.