Fun Facts
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Currently, all five species of sea turtles are classified as either threatened or endangered. Today’s populations are under constant attack as a result of natural predation and human interaction (either direct or indirect).

Each year, thousands of newly hatched turtles making their way to the sea fall prey to birds, crabs, raccoons and other natural predators; however, humans pose the greatest threat. For example, it is not uncommon for sea turtle by-catch, or non-deliberate catch, to drown in commercial fishing equipment such as shrimp trawls and gill nets. Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles that must surface in order to survive. Simple items, such as plastic bags or balloons can also be hazardous. Confusing marine debris for food can be deadly for Leatherback sea turtles whose diet consists of jellyfish. An even more direct threat is the black market trade for turtle eggs and meat. For centuries, a variety of cultures have hunted sea turtles for consumption.

As urban development encroaches on our shores, coastal armoring creates restricted access to essential nesting grounds. Massive beach structures such as sea walls and sandbags prevent female turtles from laying eggs in suitable areas. In addition, artificial light emanating from buildings or other coastal fixtures creates light pollution which may disorient newly-hatched sea turtles. When this happens, youngsters may crawl in the wrong direction, arriving at busy roads and encountering other dangers. Sea turtles take years to reach sexual maturity. Therefore, population recovery is a slow process. Misdirected hatchlings and females that abort the egg-laying process for lack of adequate nesting sites contribute to decreasing populations.

One of the most troubling issues affecting sea turtles today is the disease fibropapilloma. This herpes-related virus mostly affects sea turtles near Florida, the Hawaiian Islands, South America, and in some cases Australia. Fibropapilloma grows on all soft tissue (both internal and external), and appears as pink, white or black cauliflower-like tumors. These benign tumors vary in size, but can be severely debilitating and even life-threatening if not treated quickly. Depending on the location of the growth, mobility and vision can be affected. In worst cases, starvation may occur as well.

This ocean epidemic first appeared in the early 1900’s, but scientists are still baffled as to the exact cause of the disease or how it is transmitted. According to The Turtle Hospital, one of only two facilities in Florida that accepts these infected reptiles, approximately 50% of sea turtles within the Florida Keys and around the world carry the fibropapilloma virus.

Florida’s nesting population is on the decline, and as a result, it is important to take precautions should you encounter this animal in the wild. Do not touch nesting turtles; stand quietly behind and at a distance. If frightened, mother turtles may become stressed and abort the nesting process before completion.
Turn off the lights! When observing these creatures at night, do not use any flashlights, flash photography, or video recording equipment. Sources of artificial light can disorient newly hatched sea turtles and lead them in the wrong direction. If you find a stranded or dead sea turtle contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement at 1-888-404-FWCC or dial *FWC from your mobile phone.



Resources for this article have been provided by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and Sea Turtle League, Wikipedia and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.




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