Did you know that only 1 out of 1000 turtle hatchlings is likely to survive to adulthood? It's sad but true: from the moment a hatchling emerges from its nest, its life is fraught with danger. Natural predators including crabs, birds, and fish try to make a meal of it and it has to navigate obstacles on its way to the water; anything from driftwood, to rocks to unnatural light that leads it away from the water
Once it reaches the ocean, and it survives the frenzied swimming that leads it away from the shores and danger, there are other threats that can keep it from reaching maturity. They are often caught accidentally in fishing nets. Turtles increasingly suffer from marine pollution through the destruction of their habitats and ingesting of harmful products like plastic and chemicals, leading to a greater chance of physical deformities and even death. A suspected virus is causing a disease that results in tumours especially in green turtles. Cases of the tumours, which often grow to be so large that they hinder a turtle’s ability to see, eat, and swim, have been found in all oceans.
Once females reach maturity and are ready to nest, they can be stopped by a number of factors including degradation of sites and human persecution. Turtles are exploited for their meat and shells.
And there is now the threat of global warming for these animals to contend with. Rises in sea levels lead to the loss of beach, and nesting sites and severe weather leads to erosion and destruction of sites. The gender of hatchlings is also temperature dependent - higher temperatures gives more female hatchlings and the reverse is true for males, meaning populations could be affected if a balance is not maintained. And then there is coral bleaching, which impacts reefs that are habitats for species like the Hawksbill.
Phew! Life is not easy for marine turtles! But against all natural odds they have survived for millennia, outliving all the other pre-historic animals they shared the planet with, including dinosaurs.
Conservation programmes have helped improve the odds of survival for turtles in the face of growing threats, with all species now endangered. Seychelles is well known for some of the global successes. Over 30 years of monitoring turtles on Cousin Island Special Reserve revealed an eight fold increase in nesting turtles. A comprehensive study of healthy populations of turtles in relation to healthy seas rated Seychelles highly.
Turtle conservation programmes have to be long-term in order for their fruits to be seen, similar to the length of time needed for a hatchling to reach maturity.
But conservation is often encumbered by lack of funding and donor fatigue.
This why organizations are trying to find new and innovative methods to raise funds. SEE Turtles, for example, recently launched an ambitious new initiative to save one billion hatchlings around the world over the next decade. The reasoning is, to make a million more adult turtles, a billion baby turtles are needed. The initiative targets individual and small business donations.
What about you, what are you willing to do to save the one in a thousand?