World Sea Turtle Day: We need them and they need us

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Published Jun 22, 2024


As poaching, pollution and climate change impact biodiversity across the continent, World Sea Turtle Day highlights the importance of sea turtles in our marine ecosystems and the ways we can help our ancient ocean ally.

Sea turtles have survived for more than 200 million years. However, they face grave threats from loss of nesting sites because of coastal development to entanglement and drowning in fishing nets or abandoned fishing gear. They also frequently ingest plastics, mistaking them for jellyfish and, in some countries, are being hunted for their meat and eggs.

“South Africa’s sea turtles urgently need our help. Though they outlasted the dinosaurs, our industrialised impact endangers them and the critical role they play in marine ecosystems,” said Peter Knights, the CEO at Wild Africa Fund

Turtles serve as prey for various predators, such as sharks and orcas, and assist in population control of their own prey, such as aquatic invertebrates, jellyfish and small fish – all helping maintain ecological balance. They alter their habitats by digging nests and foraging in reefs, enhancing habitat complexity. They are also important for nutrient cycling; by feeding on decaying organic matter they help return nutrients to the ecosystem.

The strong storms and winds experienced in the Western Cape, intensified by climate change, pose a great risk, often throwing turtles off course and leaving them stranded on beaches.

Fortunately, organisations like the Two Oceans Aquarium carry out rescue missions to save them, rehabilitating and then releasing them.

Other turtles it rescues need assistance to free them from plastic. This forms a big part of the awareness drive that the Two Oceans Aquarium is spearheading.

“In our research facility, we’ve seen a huge number of turtles come in with ingested plastic, and this causes huge damage to their gut. But there’s lots that the public can do,” said Talitha Noble, the conservation manager at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation.

“First, we can tell people how cool turtles are! When we discover how amazing marine life is, we’re inspired to care for their environment.

“Second, we can become intentional about what plastic we use and how we recycle or dispose of it, where we shop and the food that we eat.

“Third, we can keep our eyes open for stranded turtles, especially during the stranding season from March to July.”

South Africa’s oceans are home to five turtle species – hawksbill and green turtles are classed as “critically endangered” while loggerhead, Olive Ridley and leatherback turtles are classed as “vulnerable”. Pictures: Supplied

Wild Africa Fund and Two Oceans Aquarium partnered to raise awareness about the aquarium’s work, educating the public about our oceans and the ways people depend on natural ecosystems.

“We need to reach audiences that are otherwise removed from these kinds of conversations. Everyone uses plastic so can help by using less, recycling and carefully disposing of any waste rather than tossing it away to end up potentially killing a turtle.

“Ahead of World Sea Turtle Day, we hope that the government, businesses and the public can work together to ensure that we keep these important animals from extinction,” Knights said.

The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation is a South African non-profit, public benefit organisation focused on inspiring people to take action for the ocean and building connections between communities and the marine ecosystem.

Founded in 2018, the foundation continues the legacy of marine sciences education, conservation and research efforts of the Two Oceans Aquarium – a key player in environmental awareness, action and passion in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.

The foundation continues to expand its wide range of public benefit activities while increasing positive social and environmental impact through sharing information and inspiring behaviour change. Its programmes relate to and are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Wild Africa Fund aims to be Africa’s most effective conservation communicator, inspiring the public support and political will to protect Africa’s wildlife and wild spaces forever. It believes people and wildlife can survive and thrive together, so it is popularising conservation with a much broader audience than has previously been engaged.

By amplifying the voices of African opinion leaders from every field, through a powerful network of media partners and diverse programming, it seeks to promote domestic wildlife tourism, conservation projects and the passage and effective enforcement of conservation laws.

Through Wild Africa Fund communications and direct support, it also aims to deliver permanent reductions in wildlife crime, the demand for illegal bushmeat, human/wildlife conflict and habitat loss.

The fund’s network includes more than 30 national and international broadcasters, as well as radio, newspaper, billboard, PR and social media companies, who work with it pro bono to add their voices and promote conservation and environmental issues. It partners with more than 160 ambassadors from music, sports, film, TV, business, religion and government from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Rwanda, Ghana and Namibia.

Saturday Star