World Turtle Day is a day reserved to celebrate one of our world’s oldest creatures. Turtles and tortoises have been around for more than 200 million years, but are rapidly disappearing as a result of human interference. They are falling victim to habitat destruction, the cruel illegal pet trade, the exotic food industry, the traditional medicine trade, pollution, and the detrimental effects of the fishing industry. Their survival is in imminent danger.
In order to help combat this danger, World Turtle Day was put into practice in 2000, with May 23 designated as the day to celebrate the lives of these amazing creatures. Created by the American Tortoise Rescue, the goal is to draw attention to ways we can help save these gentle creatures.
There are many species of turtles and tortoises. The primary difference between them has more to do with where they live than how they look. Sea turtles are free spirits of the oceans and they travel great distances throughout their lives. One unique thing about sea turtles is that, according to Greenpeace.org, when females are ready to deposit, they return to the same beach where they hatched to lay their eggs. It is amazing that they can return to the exact same beach purely on instinct. Males never have a need to return to land. These sea turtles are important because the keep coral reefs healthy by eating the algae that grow on it. They are also beneficial to humans in that they eat jellyfish, which helps to make beaches safer for us. Leatherback turtles are the largest turtles on the planet. Although they are born from a golf-ball-sized egg, they grow to become huge creatures. The largest recorded leatherback turtle was 2.2 meters long, which is roughly the size of a pickup truck bed. On the other hand, the speckled padloper only measures between 6 and 10 centimeters! Turtles and tortoises are gentle, slow moving creatures that add aesthetic beauty and enjoyment to our world. It would be devastating to lose such iconic creatures.
According to humanesociety.org, "the seven species of sea turtles are among the most endangered animals on Earth". Despite being protected by many laws, they are still being illegally abducted from the sea and sold for profit. Turtles rank number one among the most popular reptiles to have as pets. The pet trade has driven the demand for wild turtles because breeding in captivity cannot keep up with the public’s desire to own these creatures. Slow growth and low reproduction rates can make this even more perilous. The number of deaths of both wild-caught and captive-bred turtles during the transport due to the pet trade is outrageous. Thousands of turtles perish during capture and shipping, and many more die in the homes of pet owners who do not know how to properly care for them. Unfortunately, turtles are not only endangered due to the growing pet trade, but they are also wanted as food by others.
The food and medicine trade with turtles has greatly increased in the last several years. This is primarily driven by the Asian market. The populations of turtles in Southeast Asian areas have been over-caught and do not contain the number of animals needed to support the demand, so people in Asia are buying mass quantities from other parts of the world. Roughly 18 million turtles are sold to the meat and traditional medicine trade every year. In addition to the explotation of the populations, these poor creatures are treated horribly with little or no regard to them as living creatures. Turtles need lawmakers to step in and protect them from being sold and shipped into extinction.
There is also the issue of pollution. Pollution is a growing problem that is destroying the habitats of turtles and tortoises on land and in sea. Construction and housing expansion is taking over many of the areas in which they live. These areas do not offer protection to our turtles; there are even construction developments that are given special permits to literally bury the turtles and tortoises alive as to not slow down their work. This is atrocious! Refuse is another issue endangering turtles and tortoises. Coastlines are littered with debris like plastic bags, balloons, etc., which cause strangulation, suffocation or digestive blockages in these creatures. The encroachment of humans into the habitats of these magnificent animals is causing a serious rise in deaths due to construction, garbage and chemical poisoning from human living areas. So, how can we help?
As stated on ecology.com, there are several things we can do to help protect our amazing turtles and tortoises. Remember to never remove turtles from the wild unless they are sick or injured, and never buy them from a pet shop, as it increases the demand from the wild. Help a slow-moving turtle or tortoise out of a dangerous situation by gently picking it up and moving it to a safe place in the direction it is already going. If you try to make it go back, it will turn around and try again. Report cruelty or illegal turtle sales to your local animal shelter or control agency. Finally, add your voice to Greenpeace, which is an independent global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behavior. The organization aims to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace actively working to convince the world governments to set aside and protect a global network of marine reserves where our majestic creatures can live safely in peace.
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Gertz, Emily. “It's World Turtle Day.” Popular Science. Popular Science, 23 May 2014. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.
Mckenzie, Willie. “Turtle Recall (World Turtle Day).” Greenpeace International. Greenpeace International, 23 May 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.
Mclendon, Russell. “Happy World Turtle Day.” MNN. MNN.com, 22 May 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.
"What Is the Difference between Turtles, Terrapins, and Tortoises?" North Carolina Aquariums. North Carolina Aquarium Society, July 1997. Web. 05 Mar. 2015