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Sunday Is World Sea Turtle Day: How Travelers Can Make a Difference

TravelPulse logo TravelPulse 2019-06-14 Mia Taylor
a turtle swimming under water: Hawskbill Sea Turtle © richcarey/iStock/Getty Images Plus Hawskbill Sea Turtle

Sea turtles have existed for more than 100 million years and are critical to a healthy ocean ecosystem, playing a key role in the marine environment.

Some of the functions sea turtles perform include cycling nutrients within the ocean and on beaches when they nest and feed; helping to maintain healthy habitats for other vital species like lobster, shrimp, and tuna; and by feeding on jellyfish, sea turtles also play a pivotal role in controlling jellyfish populations.

These creatures, essential on so many levels, remarkably managed to survive the dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago. But the big question these days is whether they will survive humans?

An email from Earth Day Network issued in advance of World Sea Turtle day this Sunday raises this very issue.

All seven species of sea turtles depend on the health of the oceans and land to reproduce and survive. Yet with everything from climate change to pollution, habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade threatening their very existence, many species of sea turtles are being pushed closer to extinction.

Within the past 100 years, the population of sea turtles has also rapidly declined due to demand for sea turtle eggs, meat, skin and shells.

The result of this onslaught of challenges? Green, leatherback and hawksbill turtles are classified as endangered in the United States, while the loggerhead and olive ridley turtles are classified as threatened.

This Sunday, June 16 is World Sea Turtle Day, and with that in mind, there's no better time to focus on how travelers everywhere can help protect these important creatures. Here are a few key tips and small changes you can make to help sea turtles everywhere.

Help Keep the Oceans Clean

When traveling, even the best, most responsible recyclers can let their guard down or their routine slide. But relaxing such habits when traveling is extremely harmful.

No matter where you are, find a way to properly dispose of garbage and waste including recyclable materials. If you can’t immediately find an appropriate receptacle to dispose of something, tuck it in your backpack or bag and bring it back to your hotel or even bring it home with you, where it can be recycled properly.

Step up your efforts even more by bringing reusable water containers from home, rather than using plastic water bottles while traveling. The same goes for straws, there are now plenty of reusable metal straws for sale on Amazon that you can pack.

SeeTurtles.org outlines even more tips for travelers who want to help, not harm sea turtles. Here are a few more approaches to keep in mind as you explore the world.

Don’t Buy Souvenirs or Other items Made From Critically Endangered Hawksbill Shell

SeeTurtles.org has helpfully developed a How To Identify & Avoid Hawksbill Turtleshell guide, which can be used to learn how to recognize turtle shell and other similar looking materials.

When traveling, ask vendors what souvenirs are made of and when in doubt, don’t purchase items in question.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

As SeeTurtle.org explains, climate change affects the health of coral reefs, which are vital to the hawksbills survival.

A warming planet also skews sex ratios in baby turtles, changes the abundance and distribution of prey, increases erosion of nesting beaches and more. There are a variety of ways to reduce your carbon footprint both at home and when traveling including driving less (consider bike and walking tours!)

Choose Responsibly Caught Seafood

Sea turtles are vulnerable to commercial fishing methods like trawling, longlines, and drift gillnets, becoming unwanted catch (also known as "bycatch") that's discarded like trash.

To help make turtle friendly seafood choices check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, which is also available as a handy app for your phone.

Just say NO to plastics

As already mentioned, plastic is extremely harmful to marine life. Sea turtles and other ocean life mistake plastic for food and ingest it. It's estimated that more than 100 million marine animals die each year as a result of eating or getting entangled in plastic.

In addition to avoiding plastic bottles and straws, try to skip using disposable plastic bags, and all other single-use plastics. Here are some easy ways to reduce your reliance on plastic.

Leave No Trace

This means practicing good housekeeping when visiting a beach where turtles nest. Remove your trash (and trash left by others) and any obstacles that may become hazards for nesting sea turtles and hatchlings like beach furniture, holes, and sandcastles.

Turtles need clean and clear beaches (and oceans) to increase their chances of survival.

Choose Hotels and Tour Operators Wisely

There are numerous hotels around the world that have begun programs aimed at helping sea turtles survive (and there are a variety of responsible tour operators that ban plastics on their trips.)

Examples on the hotel front include Six Senses Laamu, which announced last year that it would be partnering with a UK-based non-profit focused on saving sea turtles. The luxe Maldives property Coco Palm Dhuni Klohu resort meanwhile, runs a sea turtle rescue center. When booking your next trip, consider supporting properties such as these.

Looking for more opportunities to help, book your hotel using Kind Traveler, which allows for making a donation to the wildlife charity of your choice, including those that benefit sea turtles.

Finally, examples of responsible tour operators can be found here, and here. One of the tour companies leading the battle against plastic usage is Responsible Travel, which in 2018 announced new “no single-use plastics” vacations and itineraries.

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