Importance in the ocean
Sea turtles are a keystone species, and they play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Turtles influence the marine environment from all different levels of the food chain, adults act as consumers or predators, whereas hatchlings and juvenile sea turtles act as prey to larger marine animals.
Sea turtles not only positively benefit the marine ecosystem, but they also provide economic benefit to coastal communities through means of tourism. People travel from all over the world to visit places such as the Maldives to snorkel and dive with abundances of marine life, therefore sea turtles indirectly benefit the local economy and provide employment to local people.
They are endangered
Sea turtles are an endangered species. There are seven species of sea turtles that exist today, six of those are classified as threatened, endangered, or critically endangered primarily due to human activity.
Sea turtles are killed for purposes such as consumption, souvenirs, medicine, and religious ceremonies. These practices are extremely detrimental to turtle populations as sea turtles don’t reach sexual maturity until between 10 - 50 years of age depending on the species. A female green sea turtle will lay up to 2000 eggs in her lifetime, from this only 2 will survive to adulthood. Late sexual reproduction and low hatchling survival rates means that it is difficult to maintain stable population numbers, especially with constant human interference.
It is illegal to keep sea turtles as pets, however in many places, such as the Maldives it is common for sea turtle eggs to be poached and sold to locals to keep as pets. This is extremely detrimental to sea turtle populations as they are wild animals, by taking them away from their natural habitat they are not able to reproduce, pushing them closer towards extinction.
Lordosis is also known as “sway-back” and is defined as a ventrally concave deformity of the spine. Lordosis can develop due to a variety of factors; malnutrition, over-handling and being kept in small containers which disrupts growth.
While there are many reasons as to why a sea turtle may develop lordosis, the most probable cause is due to mishandling of the turtle as a hatchling. When hatchlings are born, their carapace (shell) is extremely soft and if handled incorrectly their spine can break resulting in this permanent condition.
Above: 2 year old green sea turtle with lordosis (left). 6 year old green sea turtle with lordosis (right).
These are our two resident green sea turtles, Hope and Donatello (Donny). Hope is approximately 2 years old and has been in our care since 2020. Donatello is approximately 6 years old and has been in our care since 2016.
Unfortunately, due to Hope’s and Donatello’s condition, they will never be able to be released into the wild as they are not strong enough to swim against strong currents. Therefore, they will be in our care permanently, or until we are able to find them an aquarium in which they can live out the rest of their lives.
Studies on lordosis are extremely limited as it is not often observed in the wild, therefore the life expectancy of sea turtles with this condition is unknown.
The work of AMC
Atoll Marine Centre opened in 2012 as a response to large amounts of hatchlings being kept as pets on Naifaru. With extensive community outreach and education, families began to surrender their hatchlings to our centre.
Over the last month, we have been hosting a school holiday program and educating the children on the threats that sea turtles face and their importance in the ocean. From this, we have had 5 green sea turtle hatchlings surrendered to our centre in the last week.
Many locals are uneducated about the needs of a sea turtle; therefore, many hatchlings are kept in freshwater in very small containers. This is fatal as their salt glands begin to shut down in fresh water, they become extremely stressed and don’t eat.
Above: Green sea turtle kept as a pet in a plastic bottle filled with salt water (left). Two green sea turtles kept as pets in a plastic bottle filled with fresh water (right).
Thankfully we have released one of the five hatchlings as it was previously kept in salt water therefore, we only had to make sure it was healthy and eating well before release. However, the other 4 hatchlings were kept in fresh water while in captivity therefore they are undergoing saltwater rehabilitation with our marine biologists and should be ready for release within the next week provided they are eating well and are healthy.
Above: feeding tuna and seagrass to green sea turtle hatchling (left). Release of green sea turtle hatchling (right).
How you can help
While the conservation status of sea turtles are worsening world-wide, there are many things’ humans can do to ensure future populations not only survive but thrive.
· Educate others – raise awareness to local communities about the importance of sea turtles and why the belong in the ocean, not in captivity as pets.
· Always put your rubbish in the bin – sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish. When they eat the plastic, it gives the turtle a false feeling that they are full, eliminating their desire to eat, causing them to die of starvation.
· Reduce your plastic use – take your own carry bag when shopping, buy a reusable drink bottle, limit packaged foods.
· Be responsible around wildlife – sea turtles are wild animals, if you encounter them on the beach or in the ocean, don’t touch them, give them space, and leave them be.
· Don’t abandon fishing gear – ghost net entanglement is fatal to all kinds of marine wildlife, once they become entangled in the net they can’t escape and die of exhaustion, starvation, or drowning.
· Volunteer or donate to charities/NGO’s that are actively making a difference to improve the state of the environment and helping wildlife.
Adopt a turtle from Atoll Marine Centre: via the following link!