The Threats Facing Sea Turtles
Sea turtle emerges from the sea to nest with
partially ingested plastic hanging from her mouth
Photo: Melbourne Zoo, Australia

Sea turtles migrate thousands of kilometres across seas and oceans to mates, nest and feed. Hatchlings will return when mature 25 to 30 years later, to the same beach on which they were born to lay their own eggs using some of the most remarkable feats of orientation and navigation.

However, nesting beaches will, during a season, also accommodate hundreds, even thousands, of tourists who may unknowingly affect incubation of the eggs or destroy nests or prevent hatchlings from reaching the sea, by spreading towels, setting up umbrellas, playing games, making sand castles and riding horses. Shadows from towels, beach furniture, and umbrellas over the nests affect temperatures and subsequently affect the sex of hatchlings (cool temperature results in mostly males, warm in mostly females). Lights from hotels and developments close to the beach can disorientate hatchlings and prevent them from reaching the sea at night. Those that don’t make it to the sea will not survive. . It is no wonder that only an estimated one in 1,000 hatchlings reaches the age to reproduce!

Between exhaustive one to two hour nesting sessions, female turtles rest on the surface of the water to recover their strength, facing a great risk from lethal speedboat propellers and buzzing jet-skis. Many turtles have been maimed or killed in this way.

Sea turtles need an undisturbed and quiet beach at night in order to nest. Many females, rather than face the trauma of a trip ashore on a disturbed beach, abort their eggs in the sea where they rot on the sea floor…

Land and sea borne small garbage (e.g. plastic wrappings) can be ingested by sea turtles in mistake for food, often leading to their death by choking, starvation or internal injury.

Throughout their lives, turtles of differing ages and species travel extensively throughout the Mediterranean Sea. During their movements, the turtles come into contact with a great deal of fishing activity, nearly all of which is potentially lethal to them. It is estimated that at least 6000-8000 Mediterranean sea turtles are caught by fishing activities every year (Demetropoulos).

Despite extensive research, publicity, and an increased public concern for their conservation, sea turtles, especially greens, remain under serious threat of extinction in the Mediterranean. Lack of enforcement of national and international laws, conventions, and European Community directives is largely due to ignorance and indifference on the part of individuals, policy makers, and authorities. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) play an important role in sea turtle conservation throughout the Mediterranean through research, public awareness, and environmental education projects.