To truly protect sea turtles around the world, many different countries and cultures must cooperate and share responsibility. International laws and agreements, research, and the work of dedicated organizations and individuals each must play a part. Long-term protection of sea turtles also means developing solutions that reduce reliance on management methods requiring direct human involvement -- such as moving nests or raising hatchlings in captivity. If sea turtles can not survive and reproduce on their own, without help from humans, then they are doomed. Feeding and nesting grounds must be protected, and a public wildlife conservation ethic must be fostered that can withstand gaps in government regulations, pressure from private interests, and changes in the political climate.
Sea turtles are given legal protection in the United States and its waters under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which lists the hawksbill, leatherback, Kempís ridley and green turtle as endangered; the loggerhead is listed as threatened. This designation makes it illegal to harm, harass or kill any sea turtles, hatchlings or their eggs. It is also illegal to import, sell, or transport turtles or their products. In the United States, the National Marine Fisheries Service has jurisdiction over sea turtles in the water, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for them on land. Other countries have their own conservation laws and regulations that apply to sea turtles. Recovery plans for all sea turtle species found in US waters.
Some regulations affecting sea turtles are global in scope. The "Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species" (CITES) controls international trade in endangered and threatened species. Sea turtles are covered under Appendix I of this agreement and receive protection from international trade by all countries that have signed the treaty.
In many states where sea turtles nest, state laws have been passed to protect the species. These laws meet or exceed the requirements of the ESA. In Florida for instance, the Marine Turtle Protection Act was passed giving state agencies the power to enforce regulations protecting turtles and their habitat. Some local governments have passed regulations to eliminate or control artificial beachfront lighting, which is known to deter females from nesting and disorient hatchlings.
The threats facing sea turtles are numerous and, for the most part, humans are the problem. For those of us trying to protect sea turtles,
it is a mixed blessing that so many threats are human-caused. On one hand, it is very hard to change human behavior. On the other hand, at least there
is hope for eliminating threats. If sea turtles were going extinct because of geological or climatic changes, there would be very little we could
do to help.
Some immediate goals for protecting sea turtles include:
* Crack down on illegal international trade in sea turtles and their products by enforcing laws and agreements.
* Decrease the turtle deaths caused by commercial fishing through enforcement of Turtle Excluder Device (TED) and gill net regulations.
* Protect nesting beaches by establishing parks and refuges or through regulations combined with public education initiatives.
* Eliminate disturbances at nesting beaches by decreasing artificial lighting, halting beach armoring, regulating beach nourishment and limiting the impacts of people on the beach.
* Enforce national and international laws to minimize the dumping of pollutants and solid waste into the ocean and nearshore waters.
* Continue research and monitoring activities so that the population can be monitored and conservation efforts can be focused where they are most needed.
* Increase public awareness and community participation in sea turtle conservation through educational programs such as this.