Posted by Blair | 01.04.2019 | Sea Turtle Camp News
Why Sea Turtles are Important
Sea Turtles are known as a “keystone species”, which means that they are a very important part of the marine ecosystem and influence other animals around them. Healthy oceans need sea turtles and sea turtles need healthy oceans!
1. Without hawksbill sea turtles living and eating on a coral reef, sponges can overgrow and suffocate slow-growing corals causing them to die. As reefs become more and more threatened by climate change and other impacts, the role of the hawksbill on the reef is even more vital!
2. Leatherback sea turtles specialize in eating jellyfish which keeps jellyfish populations in check. If leatherbacks were to disappear, jellyfish populations would explode. Other species of turtles also snack on jellies sometimes too. Jellyfish prey upon larval fish (eggs) so without sea turtles and these fish eggs there would be no fish in the sea! It’s all about balance.
3. Adult green sea turtles primarily eat sea grasses, acting as aquatic lawnmowers which help keep seagrass beds healthy. Seagrass beds which are found in shallow marine waters, provide habitat, food, and nursery areas for many fish species where they take shelter from predators. Healthy seagrass beds also help to stabilize the ocean bottom which helps decrease erosion from wave action and storms.
4. Sea turtles are prey for other animals at all stages of life. Hatchlings are prey for birds, crabs, land mammals, and fish. Adult sea turtles are prey for apex predators like sharks and orcas. On some beaches in Costa Rica, adult female sea turtles are even prey for jaguars that prowl nesting beaches at night, making sea turtles an integral part of food webs in the ocean AND on land!
5. Sea turtles play an important cultural role for many coastal communities around the world. Many indigenous cultures consider them ancestors. They are also an important source of income for coastal residents through turtle-watching ecotourism. Research has shown that sea turtle ecotourism can generate three times the income than by selling sea turtle parts (eggs, meat, & shells), making them worth more alive than dead!
6. Aside from their important ecological role, sea turtles are some of the most charismatic animals on the planet! It seems that everyone loves sea turtles. They are a source of awe and inspiration; watching them pull themselves up a beach to nest, swim through a reef, or watching hatchlings charge to the sea are truly magical and unforgettable experiences. Without sea turtles our blue planet wouldn’t be complete.
If sea turtles were removed from their habitat by going extinct, their whole marine environment will be disrupted and there would be world-wide impacts. Each sea turtle species uniquely affects the diversity, habitat, and functionality of its environment. Whether by grazing on seagrass, controlling sponge growth, feasting on jellyfish, transporting nutrients, or supporting other marine life, sea turtles play vital roles in maintaining the health of the oceans.