Threats to Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are built to last. Equipped with unique body armor to protect them from their natural enemies, they have swum the seas since dinosaurs roamed the land. However, in recent history, rapidly increasing human populations have resulted in new and acute pressures, making sea turtle survival ever more difficult. Expert members of the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group have identified five major threats to sea turtles worldwide: fisheries bycatch, coastal development, pollution and pathogens, direct take, and climate change. Learn more about these threats and find out how you can help.

 

Why Are Sea Turtles Endangered? 5 Major Threats

 A leatherback entangled in fishing gear in Grenada. © Kate Charles

A leatherback entangled in fishing gear in Grenada. © Kate Charles

Fisheries Bycatch

It’s estimated that the fishing industry contributes to the death of thousands to tens of thousands of sea turtles each year. Turtles that become trapped in longlines, gill nets and trawls are thrown away as bycatch. And those that manage to avoid fishing nets are impacted by the disruption to their food supply and habitat.

 A crowd watches a leatherback turtle nest in Florida. © Ted Swoboda

A crowd watches a leatherback turtle nest in Florida. © Ted Swoboda

Coastal Development

Every year, sea turtle habitats are destroyed because of shrinking coastlines. Wherever there is boat vessel traffic, whenever a new hotel or high-rise is built up along the shore, and wherever there is sea floor dredging and beach erosion sea turtle food supplies and nesting areas take a major hit.

 A juvenile sea turtle covered in oil. © Carolyn Cole

A juvenile sea turtle covered in oil. © Carolyn Cole

Pollution And Pathogens

Marine pollution can harm sea turtles in many ways. Plastic pollution, discarded fishing gear, petroleum by-products, and other debris injure sea turtles through ingestion and entanglement. Ocean pollution can also weaken the turtles’ immune systems, and disrupt nesting behavior and hatchling orientation.

 A butchered green turtle for sale in Grenada. © Brian J. Hutchinson

A butchered green turtle for sale in Grenada. © Brian J. Hutchinson

Direct take

Throughout the world, turtles are killed and traded on the global market as exotic food, oil, leather, and jewelry. Over the past 100 years, millions of hawkbill turtles alone have been killed just for the price of their shells. And even though today the global trade of luxury and craft items has reduced thanks to conservation efforts, it still remains an ongoing threat to turtles in parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas.

 A bleached coral reef. © The Ocean Agency

A bleached coral reef. © The Ocean Agency

Climate change

We are just now learning the extent to which climate change can affect sea turtles. Climate change can impact the natural sex ratios of hatchlings, increase the likelihood of disease outbreaks, and can escalate the frequency of extreme weather events, which destroy nesting beaches and coral reefs.