In just the first few months of the season, the Perhentian Turtle Project (PTP) has already recorded five dead turtles. Four of these deaths were from boat strikes. Turtles being killed by boats is too common an occurrence around the world, so it is important that we try to help turtle conservation efforts as much as we can.
Why are turtles so important?
Different turtles play different roles. Adult green sea turtles for example play an important role in seagrass maintenance. Their grazing actually increases seagrass production, creating more food for green turtles and other marine animals. This increased seagrass production also reduces the chance of eutrophication (uncontrollable algal blooms caused by excess nutrients). When the seagrass grows, they absorb the excess nutrients, controlling the algal blooms.
Where the adult greens are strictly herbivorous, the diet of the giant leatherbacks is primarily jellyfish. Leatherbacks are the primary predator of jellyfish and without these giants roaming the seas feeding, snorkelling trips would quickly become much less enjoyable.
As well as controlling the ecology of the seas, they are an important part of the ecology. Only 1 in 10,000 reaches adulthood, the turtles that don’t survive become a vital food source for sharks, crabs, seabirds, and other marine life. Without this annual bonanza of food many of the ecologically vital species wouldn’t survive.
Without all the ecological benefits turtles provide, they are still of vital economic importance. On the Perhentian Islands (home of the Perhentian Turtle Project) PTP often records 11, sometimes 15, boats around a turtle. This can be upwards of 77 people all paying to see turtles. If all the turtle disappeared do you think people would continue to visit the islands and contribute to the economy?
I want to see turtles but how can I reduce my impact?
There are three basic rules to follow when you’re around turtles
- No Touching
- No Feeding
- No Chasing
Number 1 – Try to keep a distance of 3-5m. If there is a strong current and there’s a chance of you crashing into the turtle, don’t dive down. Turtles have a thin mucus-like layer that protects them from infection. Touching the turtles removes this layer, leaving them vulnerable to infection.
Number 2 – Feeding turtles cause a huge number of problems. First off is the behavioural changes. In places where turtles are fed, turtles approach boats, increasing the risk of boat strikes. Secondly, they stop feeding naturally and become dependent on the provided food; causing potential problems with gut bacteria, making them unable to feed on their natural seagrass diet. Thirdly, turtles are the keystone species for seagrass growth regulation. Take them away, and the seagrass grows unchecked, increasing the chance of harmful algal blooms.
Number 3 – Can you imagine trying to come up to the surface to breathe while being chased by someone? You quickly take a breath, and dive down to get away, yet still they chase you. It’s incredibly stressful for the turtle, they often don’t take in enough air for a proper dive. Make sure you are as calm as possible; don’t splash around madly in excitement. If turtles aren’t scared of you, chances are you’ll have a better encounter!
So how else can I help turtles?
- Turtles are hugely effected by tourism, so be mindful of your holiday choices. Chose tour providers that promote ecologically friendly practices like not feeding or touching the wildlife
- Public beach cleans are becoming more common, so ask a local dive shop/hotel if there are any you can join in with
- Contribute to their conservation! Volunteer, donate to local conservation projects, or see if there are any citizen science projects you can get involved with.
- Perhaps most importantly, educate yourself and others about the problems. Often people just aren’t aware of their impact; education is one of the most important factors in our fight for conservation.