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Turkish crowded beach Beaches like this one in Turkey are highly prised by turtles and tourists alike. Without sufficient controls the turtles will disappear. (Medasset/RHC Poland)

The trouble with tourists

Critically Endangered

There are seven species of marine turtles: four are classified as endangered and two are critically endangered. These listings have been given because their populations have declined by anything from 50 percent to more than 80 per cent in the last fifty years. International trade in turtles and turtle products is officially banned under the UN convention on endangered species - CITES.

For much of their lives turtles migrate huge distances but during certain times of the year they congregate in shallow coastal waters to breed. At this time females venture ashore on several occasions in order to lay clutches of up to 150 eggs. Around two months later tiny hatchlings emerge from the sand and make their way out to sea.

For many, the epic struggle of a fully grown turtle crawling on to a beach to excavate her nest and the subsequent emergence of hundreds of hatchlings is one of the wonders of nature. But this unique life-cycle has put the turtle into direct conflict with the planet's biggest industry: tourism.

playing with hatchlings Playing with nature: tourists pay to release turtles, unaware that they're sending them to an almost certain death.

The tropical and sub-tropical beaches which turtles have used for millions of years have become the object of desire of a never-ending tide of tourists.In the future this conflict can only grow more severe. Today, tourism generates more than $3.5 billion world-wide,representing ten per cent of all economic activity on the planet. This figure is predicted to increase by 50 per cent in the next ten years.

Throughout the world, coastlines which once consisted of scattered settlements and quiet beaches are rapidly being turned into endless strips of urban development.Disturbance from hotels, shops, restaurants and roadways can place an unbearable burden on nesting turtles and their hatchlings. Many females will not lay their eggs if noise or lighting from resorts is too great; nests can be damaged or destroyed by sunbathers; and newly hatched turtles can be disoriented by beach front development and may never reach the sea.

wall at beach top Turtles prefer to lay eggs in soft sand at the top of beaches: concrete like this one in Florida can make it impossible for turtles to find suitable nest sites.
(M Kazmers/Shark Song)

In the Mediterranean the nesting period of the loggerhead and green turtle coincides almost exactly with the peak tourist season from May to August. Although protection measures have been introduced at some beaches it is thought their population has crashed from tens of thousands to only a few thousand since the 1950s. Along tropical coasts where tourism is developing most rapidly, little has been done to limit its impact on turtle populations.

Trouble spot

At Grande Anse, on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, bulldozers have moved on to the mile long beach to start a major new construction programme. The site, which is a major rookery for leather-back turtles, had previously been earmark ed as a potential National Park. Now local conservationists, who have been monitoring turtles there for ten years are being restricted from the beach.

turtle swimming

D Perrine

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WSPA's campaign booklet - Turtle Alert! has been adapted for the WWW by EuroTurtle, which is a Web based project by MEDASSET International (Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles), Exeter University (UK) and the Biology Department of King's College,Taunton, UK. EuroTurtle is Europe's first Sea Turtle Biology & Conservation Web Site for Science and Education.

Copyright © 1997, WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals).
These pages are the intellectual property of WSPA.
Permission to copy these materials must be obtained from WSPA.