Threats to turtles
Marine turtles are recognised internationally as species of conservation concern. Six of the species found in Australia are listed in the 2000 IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of Threatened Animals.
All the six species which occur in Australian waters are listed under the Australian Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The loggerhead and olive ridley turtle are listed as endangered under this Act which means that the species may become extinct if the threats to its survival continue. The green, leatherback, hawksbill and flatback turtles are listed as vulnerable which means that they may become endangered if threats continue.
All marine turtle species are experiencing serious threats to their survival. The main threats are pollution and changes to important turtle habitats, especially coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove forests and nesting beaches. One of the most significant threats now comes from bycatch. Other threats include accidental drowning in fishing gear, over-harvesting of turtles and eggs, and predation of eggs and hatchlings by foxes, feral pigs, dogs and goannas.
The biggest danger to sea turtles is humans. For centuries they have been hunted for their meat, eggs and their shells. Even with conservation efforts these events continue to take place all over the world. Humans also continue to remove the natural environment of sea turtles is also a concern. It is estimated that about 150,000 of them die annually due to boating accidents or getting caught up in fishing nets designed to capture other forms of aquatic life. Even living in the oceans has become a problem for the sea turtles due the wastes and pollution in them.
All marine turtle species occurring in Australian waters are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In addition, all marine turtles occurring in the Indo-Pacific region are a priority for conservation under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (the Bonn Convention or CMS).
In summary, threats to turtles include:
- Destruction of feeding grounds such as seagrass beds;
- Degradation of breeding sites;
- Artificial lights (street and house lighting) near breeding beaches that disorientate hatchlings;
- Predation on hatchlings and eggs by foxes, pigs, goanna;
- Entanglement in fishing gear, such as trawl nets;
- Direct hits by boats;
- Ingestion of plastic bags, thought by turtles to be jellyfish;
- Over harvesting of turtles and eggs, especially affecting green and hawksbill populations.