Are Sea Turtles Endangered and How Many Are Left In the World?
Sea turtles are beloved by many. These majestic animals have been on the planet for over 100 million years when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Now, though nearly all sea turtle species are at least threatened or vulnerable. Still, there is a lot we can do to help these incredible animals. So, are sea turtles endangered? Follow along to discover if sea turtles are endangered, which species need the most help, and how many are left in the world.
How Many Sea Turtle Species Exist?
Before we dive into answering are sea turtles endangered, let’s discuss the different species that exist. Each species is listed at a different classification. In the world, there are seven sea turtle species, the green, flatback, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley sea turtle.
The largest sea turtle species is the leatherback sea turtle, which can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Instead of scales and a hard shell, leatherback sea turtles have tough rubbery skin and are highly migratory, sometimes traveling more than 10,000 miles in one year.
The smallest sea turtle species is the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. They only reach about 2 feet long, sometimes even less. They are also the rarest turtle species in the world and are critically endangered.
Although still suffering from habitat loss and boating accidents, olive ridley sea turtles are the most common sea turtle species in the world. Still, they are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
Flatback sea turtles are unique because their range is limited. These sea turtles are endemic to the sandy beaches and shallow coastal waters of the Australian continental shelf. Because of its limited distribution, flatback sea turtles are listed as Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Are Sea Turtles Endangered?
Sea Turtles are vulnerable to extinction and threats, but some species are more endangered than others. However, they all suffer from the same threats. The most critically endangered sea turtle species is the Kemp’s Rirley sea turtle. It’s been labeled as endangered since 1970 under the Endangered Species Act. Internationally, they are critically endangered. They are threatened by the loss and degradation of nesting habitats. As beaches continue to be developed, less land is left for sea turtles to lay their eggs.
Female sea turtles give up and drop their eggs in the ocean if they can’t find a suitable place to lay their eggs. This is why many cities in the world are fining companies that leave beach chairs and equipment overnight.
Very few sea turtles live to adulthood. Only about 1 in a thousand hatchlings survive to adulthood. They are small and faced with many challenges, starting from when they first hatch. Over-development and artificial lights can confuse sea turtles, causing them to turn in the wrong direction and never make it to the ocean. According to NASA, hatchlings depend on the light of the moon and stars to navigate to the water.
Another threat sea turtles face is getting accidentally caught in fishing equipment or getting into boating accidents. Boating accidents can break a sea turtle’s shell, fins, or face. This can make it hard for them to hunt if they survive. Sometimes, fishing lines and plastic soda rings wrap around sea turtles. As they grow, they are squeezed by the plastic, causing painful deformities. Sea turtles may even eat plastic debris mistaking it for food, which can force them to starve and cause other health problems.
How Many Sea Turtles Are Left in the World?
There are around 6 to 7.5 million sea turtles left in the world. However, these numbers change depending on the species. For example, there are around 20,000 hawksbill sea turtles in the world. These federally endangered turtles nest worldwide. Currently though, about 8,000 to 10,000 hawksbill females nest in Australia. Although difficult to estimate, there are likely above 80,000 green sea turtles in the world. On the other hand, only around 50,000 loggerhead sea turtles remain.
Sadly, there aren’t as many Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in the wild. Experts estimate there are about 8,000 to 9,000 nesting sea turtles. Previously though, at least 40,000 females were nesting in Mexico annually in the 1940s. By 1985, this number dropped to less than 300. Leatherback sea turtle populations have also declined. Now, there are an estimated 26,000 to 43,000 nesting females. The most common sea turtle species, the olive ridley sea turtle, population has decreased a lot. Historically, there were well over two million female nesting sea turtles, now there are around 800,000.
What Can You Do To Help Sea Turtles?
As sad as these numbers are, there are a lot of conservation efforts, rescues, and movements in place protecting sea turtles. We can also do our part to help increase the nesting female population, but how? Some great ways to do your part in helping sea turtles are reducing your use of plastic and picking up after yourself. You can also participate in a volunteer coastal clean-up to reduce the plastics drifting to the sea. If you’re at the beach, move any obstacles that can cause sea turtles to head back to the water before digging their nests. Soda rings are especially dangerous. Before throwing them away or recycling them, cut each ring individually to eliminate the chance of a sea creature getting stuck in them. Any little bit helps. To become more active, search for sea turtle conservation groups in your area and get involved.