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Empty beaches are helping sea turtles, but for how long?

With empty beaches and decreased human activities, the number of turtle nests are starting to increase. While empty beaches are temporary and Covid-19 lockdowns will not last forever, conservation efforts by local communities have increased sea turtle populations around the world.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Recently, the number of turtle nests have increased around the world as Covid-19 has put a stop to human activities and emptied out beaches. In Thailand, the number of leatherback turtle nests were the highest in 20 years, as tourists and locals are kept away from Thailand’s beaches. In the United States, 76 leatherback nests were found in Juno Beach, a number much higher than last year’s during the same period.

The increase in nests are attributed to the empty beaches. Without people on the beach, there is lesser trash and plastic being tossed on shores and into the ocean, and this decreases the chance of sea turtles of being injured by the trash. The top cause of turtle injuries and death is due to entanglement by nets and ingestion of plastic. The obstacles faced by the sea turtles are also decreased on empty beaches, with no humans walking around damaging nests, or leaving behind items that will block them from reaching suitable nesting spots. However, empty beaches will not last forever. Once Covid-19 lockdowns are lifted, and the world finally goes back to normal, people will return to the beaches and pollution will increase again.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

There are 7 species of sea turtles in the world, and 6 of them are classified as vulnerable or endangered. Sea turtles are killed for their meat, shells and skin, while turtle eggs are also being taken from nests for consumption. Poaching and overharvesting is decreasing the number of hatchlings, when the odds are already stacked against them: only 1 in 1000 survive to reach adulthood.

In a bid to protect sea turtles, people from local communities are stepping up to protect nesting turtles and their eggs from poachers and human activities.

In Indonesia, where 6 species of sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs, conservation efforts are being done across the archipelago. Communities that once consumed turtle meat and eggs regularly are now protecting the turtles and earning money from ecotourism. Conservations groups educate the locals on sea turtles and encourage tourists to visit their beaches, where they can see female turtle laying eggs, or take part in the release of hatchlings into the ocean. A quick search on the internet will reveal many eco-friendly tour packages for sea turtle conservation in Indonesia, which will hopefully continue into the future.

In Ocean Purpose Project’s home base Singapore, the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle and the endangered Green Turtle emerges every few years to nest on our shores. As part of efforts to protect these turtles, a turtle hatchery was built at the protected Sisters’ Islands Marine Park. National Parks Board (NParks) locate and transfer turtle eggs to the hatchery, where they are protected from humans and predators. Locals are also given a chance to help – they can volunteer to locate nests, whereby NParks will train them to identify the species of the nests and transfer the eggs to the hatchery.

By having these conservation efforts, the number of sea turtle eggs that hatch successfully increases, increasing the number of turtles that will survive into adulthood.

Image by 272447 from Pixabay

Although the increase in turtle nests cannot be 100% attributed to decrease human activities due to Covid-19, it is definitely a factor. With less obstacles in the way for nesting turtles, they can more easily get to shore unharmed, and find a nice nesting spot. Research has revealed that conservation efforts have definitely seen turtle populations increase over the decades, and we can see from this that human action definitely matters – both in hurting and protecting wildlife. By making the right choices and having the right regulations, humans can thrive without harming the other creatures we share the planet with.

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