7 Threats to Turtle Populations and How You Can Help

7 Threats to Turtle Populations and How You Can Help

American Tortoise Rescue is a non-profit bent on protecting all species of turtles and tortoises, from the giants on the Galapagos to the sea turtles traversing depths of the Pacific to the eastern box turtle, one of the most commonly seen turtles in the wild.

In this effort, ATR launched WorldTurtleDay.org to spread the love for and increase widespread knowledge about turtles around the world.

These amazing creatures have been living on this planet since the time of dinosaurs and are still kicking!

However, a big part of the “shellabration” is to recognize that many turtles are now struggling to survive.

For those of us who want to show our love, we can get behind efforts to save turtle lives which are most vulnerable due to human endeavors.

The idea of the 23rd annual World Turtle Day, themed “I Love Turtles”, is to appreciate these animals in a positive way.

However, recognizing how they are being threatened is an important part of understanding how best to show that love.

1. Habitat Destruction

As with many wild animals, modern human development has been detrimental to their existence. As the demand for space for human homes, businesses, roadways, and agricultural fields grows, turtle habitats shrink. Wetlands are destroyed, forests and streams are rerouted and polluted, and turtles suffer because of it.

But, we can create mini-ecosystems in our spaces to help out local species. Think about making a wetland area, installing a pond, and campaigning to save nearby wild spaces.

2. The Pet Trade

While some animals have been domesticated over the last few millennia, turtles haven’t been. In other words, they are wild animals and should never be pets. While “pet turtles” may be docile and widely available at stores, they are not tame animals like dogs and cats. Even worse, many turtles being sold as pets have come from the wild.

The notion is simple: We shouldn’t have turtles as pets, and we should discourage it as a practice.

3. Exotic Food Markets

Whether it is eggs from sea turtles are turtles being killed for exotic meat, turtle populations are suffering due to exotic food markets. Adding to the issue, though some turtles are farmed (not a wonderful look in its own right), some of the turtles being collected for food from the wild are severely threatened species.

It should be fairly easy for most people to abstain from eating turtles and/or turtle eggs. Odds are anyone reading this article has plenty of other viable food sources.

4. Traditional Medicine

Not dissimilar to other animals revered for their “medicinal” uses, turtles have felt massive population declines. Several turtle body parts are used in folk medicines, and as human populations increase and medicinal needs grow in unison, many turtle species are being targeted to meet market demands.

Turtles are not medicine. We shouldn’t use them as such. Join up with one of the NGOs or activist groups combating this.

5. Smuggling

With money to be made in the pet trade, from the exotic food market, and with traditional medicine, it’s no wonder that smuggling turtles has become a business as well. It’s happening all over the world, with the USA playing a huge role in illegal turtle trafficking.

Of course, we should report any smuggling, but we can also help by not participating in anything that helps people make money by exploiting turtles.

6. Pollution

Turtles live for a long time, and they spend a lot of time on lake and river bottoms. This makes them vulnerable to human-created toxins that accumulate in these spaces. Heavy metals, petroleum-based products, and other troublesome garbage reduce the lifespan of mature turtles and the likelihood of their offspring surviving.

We can’t change that the world has polluted its waterways, but we can make choices now that will stop the practice. Start at home by steering clear of household chemicals that will inevitably end up in turtle habitats.

7. Evolution

Humans have quickly evolved into technological beings with global trade markets, international shipping, and mass trending. Turtles and tortoises evolved to live long lives and reproduce slowly. As the two collide in the modern world, the evolution of turtles can no longer keep up with the worldwide capital desires of humanity. As eggs and female turtles are taken out of the system early, turtle populations are plummeting.

This article by Jonathon Engels was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 23 May 2023. 

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