Sea turtle conservation is certainly an effort of widespread interest among conservationists, especially since numerous species are presently under threat by habitat loss or diminishing resources such as food and nesting areas. Turtles that are not under threat by insufficient habitat or food often face commercial exploitation by humans who poach turtles for meat or harvest their eggs as a delicacy. Sea turtles are important to the ecosystem because they are natural predators of many species of jellyfish, which can help keep exploding populations in balance. Natural oceanic ecosystems suffer damage by way of rapid decline in sea turtle populations.

A common problem with turtle populations is pollution, especially among olive ridley sea turtles that prey on jellyfish, since plastic debris can look like jellyfish and lead turtles to consume them accidentally. Consumption of plastic frequently leads to malabsorption, which means that despite a regular diet turtles will suffer from malnutrition because they cannot absorb essential vitamins, minerals or amino acids. Another problem is intestinal blockage, which can lead to fast death. Small olive ridley turtles may strangulate on plastic debris and die immediately, while larger adults will ingest the plastic whole. Most conservation groups agree that pollution needs to stay in check and make an effort to keep garbage, debris and chemicals out of the oceans for the sake of turtles and other wildlife.

One other issue is natural predation exacerbated by imbalanced ecosystems. Leatherback turtles in particular are independent and possess no real predators as adults, but juveniles are particularly small and unprotected by their parents. They hatch independently and enter the ocean, where they become prey for large fish and invertebrates. Some do not even make it into the ocean, instead becoming prey for shore crustaceans and birds while still on the sand. Conservationists agree that healthier populations of leatherbacks in addition to more normally distributed predators would result in a higher survival rate for young leatherbacks.

Conservation initiatives are varied and a few of the most common include tagging individuals and tracking them by satellite. This is most regularly performed on critically endangered species to assure healthy breeding individuals remain healthy. Tracking adult females may help monitor where they lay eggs so that poachers and predators can be discouraged and future breeding encouraged. Relocation can be a potential treatment for population issues, especially where a disproportionate number of predators exist. Additionally, ecotourism helps individual species and populations to become understood by the general public, making it easier to help prevent population decline.

Measuring the effectiveness of various conservation efforts is quite a challenge. Often populations are estimated through the reporting and recording of nesting sites. While this does not give researchers an exact number, it can be measured and compared to previous year’s data. It is not the most precise gauge but it is the best method we currently have and is our best bet for saving sea turtles for future generations.

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