Some of us go in search of the best roofing, others, are simply born with one. This is true about turtles. Have you ever thought about the fact that turtles travel everywhere equipped with their own roof?
Turtles, including tortoises are an order of reptiles with a body encased in a bony shell. Although a number of animals have evolved shells, none has the architecture of the turtles, who simply seem to have the best roofing. The turtle shell has a top known as the carapace and a bottom called the plastron, which are bony structures that join one another along each side of the body to create a strong skeletal box. This box consists of bone and cartilage, and is retained throughout the turtle’s life.
There are over 350 species of turtles living on land as well as in the sea, and in freshwater. Tortoises live exclusively on land and can be found in all continents except Australia and Antarctica. They have anatomic features that distinguish them from sea turtles and freshwater turtles, a key feature being a difference in the appearance of their hind limbs.
Seven different species of sea turtles occupy our oceans, from the shallow sea beds of the Indian Ocean, to the sandy beaches of the Eastern Pacific. They are a highly migratory species and only come ashore periodically to bask or nest, while spending a large part of their lives in the ocean. Interestingly, sea turtles are live representatives of a group of reptiles that have traversed the earth and our seas for the last 100 million years.
However, over the last two centuries, human activities have posed a threat to the survival of these ancient seafarers, who are a fundamental link in marine ecosystems. They have been slaughtered for their meat, their eggs, skin and shell. They have been over exploited and subject to poaching, in addition to facing habitat destruction. A significant number accidentally get caught in fishing nets and suffer a slow death. Climate change affects their nesting sites, altering the temperature of the sand, and as a result affecting the sex of their offspring. Due to all of the above factors, almost all species of sea turtles are now classified as endangered, while three of the seven existing species are considered critically endangered.
Around the world communities and corporates have attempted to take sustainability initiatives to conserve marine turtles and their habitats. You too can join efforts in your area to address the threat facing these little roof roofing veterans, who are a vital element within the eco system of our oceans.
Such efforts could range from night beach patrols to pick up and transport any eggs left behind on the beach to the safety of a hatchery; guarding a hatchery from predators; helping to release newly hatched baby turtles into the sea; rescuing turtles in distress such as those stuck in fishing nets; and keeping the beach clean to facilitate female turtles to lay their eggs.
In addition to these vital support initiatives that can be done at community level, broader efforts are needed to monitor and patrol beaches to stop large scale sea turtle poaching, more research to understand sea turtle habitats and biology, and the effects of climate change, and stronger lobbying for more stringent and holistic laws to protect sea turtles.