World Sea Turtle Day 2021

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    Recently, the World Sea Turtle Day (16th June) has been observed.

    About the Day

    • It is observed every year on 16th June, with the aim to save this aquatic species from extinction. It highlights the importance of sea turtles in the marine system
    • The sea turtles live as keystone species in the ocean body. Their existence is important to the environment and influences other species as well. If these species are removed, then the natural habitat will be affected, impacting other wildlife and fauna in a different way
    • It is a day dedicated to and coincides with the birthday of Dr. Archie Carr, the Father of Sea Turtle Biology and the founder of the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

    Sea Turtle 

    • These are large, air-breathing reptiles that inhabit tropical and subtropical seas throughout the world. 
    • Their shells consist of an upper part (carapace) and a lower section (plastron)
      • Hard scales or scutes cover all but the leatherback, and the number and arrangement of these scutes can be used to determine the species.
      • The upper shell, or carapace, of each sea turtle species ranges in length, color, shape and arrangement of scales.
    • There are seven species of sea turtle: Green Sea Turtle, Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, Leatherback Sea Turtle and Flatback Sea Turtle.
    • India 
    • There are five species in Indian waters (Leatherback, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Green and Olive Ridley).
    • In India, though sea turtles are protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, under the Schedule I Part II which bans consumption of turtle meat and eggs by all except for indigenous tribal communities, including the Onges and Shompen, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

     

    (Image Courtesy: WWF)

     

    Importance of Sea Turtles

    • Marine Food Web
      • Sea turtles are important members of the marine food web. For example, an adult leatherback turtle of 450 kg was estimated to eat around 330 kg of jellyfish per day in the waters of Nova Scotia, Canada.
      • Reduced numbers of sea turtles and other predators are believed to contribute to the more frequent blooms or swarms of jellyfish occurring since the 1950s
        • High jellyfish numbers are undesirable to many industries, as jellies can deter tourists to coastal areas, kill fish in sea aquaculture pens, choke fishing nets and reduce fish populations.
    • Nesting Helps Beaches
      • Turtle nesting helps beaches. The nutrients left behind by eggs and hatchlings that do not survive provide an important source for coastal vegetation.
      • Hatchlings are an important source of food for many animals. Birds, fish, mammals like raccoons and others rely on plentiful hatchlings to survive during nesting season.
    • Coastal Economies
      • The sea turtles benefit a lot to the coastal economies and native communities residing near the coast. 
        • Sea turtle meat and eggs have been an important source of nutrition for coastal communities
      • Many places rely on turtle watching or diving for jobs and income and a number of indigenous communities revere sea turtles as part of their cultures.
    • Grazing on Seagrass
      • Green turtles grazing on seagrass is an important way to keep seagrass beds healthy and healthy seagrass benefits many species and stores carbon.
    • Biological Transporters
      • As they feed in one location and migrate to a distant beach to breed, sea turtles are regarded as important biological transporters of nutrients and energy between marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

     

    Threats

    • Human activities are the main threat to sea turtles.
    • Every year, thousands of sea turtles are accidentally captured, injured or killed by mechanised boats, trawl nets and gill nets operated and used by commercial fishermen.
    • They can also sustain internal injuries from fishing hooks or suffer serious external injuries after becoming entangled in nets.
    • Each year, environmentalists record a high number of dead turtles washing up ashore.
    • This heavy toll, of injuries and deaths, occurs when turtles begin migrating to their nesting grounds on beaches and in fishing areas that are their feeding grounds.
    • Increase marine debris that gets entangled and accidentally eaten by sea turtles.

     

    Conservation Initiatives 

    • Sea Turtle Conservation Programme
      • The sea turtle conservation programme includes locating Olive Ridley turtle nesting sites, excavation and relocation of eggs to the hatchery site. 
      • The hatchery is protected with a garden fencing net for protecting eggs from predators, flooding, and poaching. Subsequently, the turtle hatchlings coming out of these nests are released safely to the sea by the local beach managers and volunteers.
    • Awareness Programmes
      • Since 2018, the Mangrove Cell and Mangrove Foundation have carried out awareness programmes in the coastal districts for local beach management staff regarding managing the turtle hatchery sites, locating and relocating turtle nests, etc.
    • Dedicated Action Plan
      • India has for the first time devised a dedicated action plan for the protection and conservation of marine turtles.
      • The country is a signatory to the Indian Ocean Sea Turtle Agreement (IOSEA) of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), a United Nations backed initiative. 
      • India follows the conservation and management action plan that is jointly developed by more than two dozen countries which have signed the IOSEA agreement.
      • The main objective of the policy is to secure the turtle nesting habitats in the country and rope in the local communities for their safeguard.

     

    Suggestions 

    • The turtle meat, eggs, oil and shell need to be replaced by a different commodity in India 
    • Areas where sea turtles forage and congregate need to be identified and additional seasonal closures need to be implemented within these areas.
    • All trawl boats should be fitted with a vessel monitoring system that must be kept on at all times. 
      • This will provide a simple system of monitoring by the Coast Guard. These small but meaningful measures will help the sea turtles that are our marine heritage have another chance at survival.
    • Reduce marine debris that may entangle or be accidentally eaten by sea turtles.
    • Participate in coastal clean-ups and reduce plastic use to keep our beaches and ocean clean. Trash in the ocean can harm sea turtles and other creatures that live there.
    • Carry reusable water bottles and shopping bags
    • Keep nesting beaches dark and safe for sea turtles. Turn off, shield, or redirect lights visible from the beach. Lights disorient hatchling sea turtles and discourage nesting females from coming onto the beach to lay their eggs.
    • Do not disturb nesting turtles, nests, or hatchlings. Attend organized sea turtle watches that know how to safely observe nesting sea turtles.
    • Remove recreational beach equipment like chairs, umbrellas, boats at night so sea turtles are not turned away.

    Source: DTH