• Darshini Babu Ganesh

Sea Turtle Conservation with Dr. Gale Bishop

In Indian Hindu mythology, it is said that the Earth is held up on the backs of four elephants. Those four elephants stand on the back of a giant sea turtle. If the sea turtle disappears, the entire system will collapse.

Sea turtles have been thriving in the world's oceans for over 150 million years, against all the odds through evolution. However, fast-acting human developments have driven sea turtles towards extinction. Today, there are only seven sea turtle species: Green, Hawksbill, Kemp's Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, and the Flatback. Except for the Flatback, which is only found in Australia, all of the other turtles live in waters around the world.

Sea turtles act as keystone species. They have a significant role in the balance of the ocean's ecosystem; the grazing of sea turtles maintains biodiversity. For instance, "the Hawksbill turtles eat sponges, preventing them from out-competing slow-growing corals." If sea turtles went extinct, it would cause a decline in all the species who depend on the seagrass beds and coral reefs for shelter and food.

The impact of the sea turtles extends to humans too. Many marine species that humans harvest depend on the seagrass beds, whose growth is controlled by the sea turtles. Sea turtles that mainly prey on jellyfish, like the leatherbacks, prevent large blooms of jellyfish, whose drifting can block coastal power stations and tear fishnets.

Sea turtles don't just impact the waters; they also benefit the beaches they're born on. Beaches are home to many small critters, but the sand doesn't hold nutrients well. The unhatched and even the hatched eggs of sea turtles provide nutrients for the little vegetation that grows on the beaches and lower dunes. The nutrients allow vegetation to form stronger, deeper roots, which protect beaches from erosion. Fewer sea turtles in the ocean, means fewer turtles return to the shores of their birth to lay eggs. Like many parts of nature, it's a chain reaction.