June 16th is World Sea Turtle Day! Join us in celebrating these fascinating and threatened creatures. Sea turtles have a tough life – to the point of briefly becoming internet memes in 2020.
It may sound extreme, but baby sea turtles do in fact have extremely low survival rates. There are a huge number of obstacles standing between a freshly hatched sea turtle and adulthood.
Even before the turtle has hatched, it is vulnerable! In Singapore, we regularly have Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) laying eggs on our various natural and artificial shores. Their eggs often fall prey to scavenging monitor lizards, and occasionally even humans! Thankfully, although such poaching rarely occurs in Singapore, it is not an uncommon sight in other parts of the world.
Furthermore, these eggs are also vulnerable to climate change! Rising sea levels threaten to drown nests that are situated too close to the shore. Increasing temperatures can also interfere with the temperature-dependent sex determination of the turtles, skewing the male-female ratio of the resultant population! That’s a lot of trouble before they’re even properly hatched.
Almost immediately after hatching, these baby turtles must make a run for the sea to have any chance of survival! Hatchlings often fall prey to opportunistic predators in the intertidal area. In urbanised beaches (like in Singapore), hatchlings become misoriented or disoriented by light pollution, and may run in the wrong direction entirely. Marine litter can often immediately be a problem, and cause mortality in these newly-hatched turtles.
Case in point, here is a Hawksbill Sea Turtle Hatchling that had wandered from the beach, across a grass patch to a walking/cycling path about 20m away. It had clearly been disoriented by the lights and was far away from where it needed to be. Additionally, this exposes the hatchling to even more hazards like falling into exposed drains and even becoming roadkill. Thankfully, this individual was rescued, and brought back to the water’s edge to be released. However, many hatchlings are not so lucky!
Only after braving all these odds, can a sea turtle even begin to live its life! It may seem daunting to think about, but there are a number of things YOU can do to help make a difference.
What You Can Do
- Ensure that trash you bring to the beaches is disposed of properly within the designated bins in our coastal parks. Or reduce your trash altogether by using reusable containers. Help clean up these habitats by participating in cleanups around Singapore’s shores.
- Educate yourself about the shores of Singapore! There are many great online resources like WildSingapore that document these spaces. Learn how you can respectfully understand these environments better.
- Speak up about the protection of these spaces and engage your local community productively! Check out LepakinSG, who (among other things) advocate for the preservation of important natural shores like Changi Beach, which are important sea turtle nesting grounds!
If you encounter a sea turtle
- Do not approach a sea turtle emerging onto the beach to nest; sea turtles are incredibly sensitive to movement and lights, and may abort the entire procedure if they feel the slightest inclination that they are being threatened.
- Do not touch sea turtle hatchlings that are emerging from the ground as this is a very sensitive part of their life cycle. Give them plenty of space to go into the water, and maybe even remove trash that would be in their way.
- If you do see a sea turtle on the beach, whether it is a nesting female or a hatchling, call the National Parks Board on their hotline at 1800 471 7300. Take note of your location (barbecue pit number, the zone you are in, etc.) so they are able to come down to the site.
- Don’t buy sea turtle products when vacationing overseas. Educate your friends and families about this as well!
- Support local artisanal fisheries who use sustainable fishing practices (Turtle Exclusion Devices, pole-and-line, etc.)
- Donate to organizations that work on sea turtles so they can continue their work in protecting sea turtles
- Shaw, K. R. Effects of inundation on hatch success of loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nests. (2013).
- Tomillo, P. S. et al. High beach temperatures increased female-biased primary sex ratios but reduced output of female hatchlings in the leatherback turtle. Biol. Conserv. 176, 71–79 (2014)
- Erb, V. & Wyneken, J. Nest-to-Surf Mortality of Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) Hatchlings on Florida’s East Coast. Front. Mar. Sci. 6, 271 (2019)