Happy World Turtle Day!!
So I hear you ask….what is world turtle day all about and why does it matter? Well, it is a day celebrated around the world to bring attention to and increase the knowledge of turtles and tortoises and also highlight some of the threats they face.
So here goes with some awareness; did you know there are over 350 species of tortoises and freshwater turtles, not including the 7 species of marine turtles (collectively known as chelonians)? The second largest of the marine species, the Green sea turtle can be seen here at the Oceanarium. Sad to say nearly half of all these species are threatened with extinction making them one of the most threatened vertebrate groups in existence on Earth today!
So what are some of the threats that these animals face? Unfortunately, they come from a huge mixture of sources whether it be natural e.g. predation or man-made such as habitat destruction. Here are a few of the main threats:
- Hunting – it is believed in some cultures that consuming turtle meat has medical benefits. However, this hasn’t been proven.
- Pollution – the most common methods of pollution that affects chelonians are through ingestion and entanglement. In the sea, sea turtles often think items such as plastic bags are food and eat them. As they look a lot like a jellyfish to an animal that has no idea what plastic is. Plastic bags choke the creatures and get stuck in their digestive systems. On land tortoises will get caught up in plastics, often losing limbs or having deformed growth when they cannot be removed.
- Pet trade – a lot of chelonians are now captive bred. However, there are still a large number that are removed from the wild to become people’s pets. Luckily a lot of the smugglers are being caught, though regrettably the animals aren’t put back in their natural habitat.Keeping a pet tortoise or turtle isn’t appropriate for everyone, they need a lot of care and owners are often unprepared for the length of time these animals live. We here at the Oceanarium will receive at least a couple of phone calls a week asking us to re-home unwanted pet turtles.
- Global warming – the gender of a baby turtle, whether they are going to be boys or girls, isn’t determined the same way ours is: DNA. Theirs is determined by temperature a process called temperature-dependent sex determination. A warmer nest will result in more females and a cooler nest will give more males. Normally within a clutch there will be an even distribution of temperature giving a good mix of boys and girls. Global warming leads to an increase in environmental temperature, which would lead to the production of more females,making it harder for them to find a mate and continue their species.
These are just some of the threats faced by turtles, hopefully on this awareness day you will be inspired to find out more information and come in to the Oceanarium to learn more and see how many of our turtles and tortoises you can spot.
by Ellie Richards (Aquatics Department)