Three species of sea
turtle inhabit the waters and utilize the nesting beaches of the U.S. Virgin
Islands. These include the green, hawksbill, and leatherback sea turtles.
All three species are endangered globally and are protected under CITES (the
convention on the international trade of endangered species), the endangered
species act of 1973, and the Virgin Islands indigenous and endangered
species act of 1990. Historically, sea turtles were plentiful in our local
waters, but many human imposed pressures have resulted in a massive decline
in their numbers, both locally and globally.
turtles were a popular food source, and the harvesting of both adult
reproductive turtles and turtle eggs was primarily responsible for the local
decline in sea turtle numbers. Taking of adult turtles for meat, shells,
jewelry, and other products reduced the number of nesting turtles and
ultimately decreased the production of eggs and hatchlings. Without eggs,
the successful production of future generations of turtles was halted.
A major contributor to
the decline of the global population as well as the Atlantic population has
been, and continues to be, commercial fishing. Long-liners as well as
shrimp trawlers were incidentally catching sea turtles by the thousands.
Unfortunately, in many cases the sea turtle drowned before the catch was
hauled in. In the USVI, fishing and buoy line entanglement and trammel nets
are the largest culprits.
In the 1950ís, coastal
development in the USVI began to boom. As shore lines began to populate
with hotels, businesses, and residences, the availability of suitable sea
turtle nesting habitat was drastically reduced. The construction of hotels,
condominiums, beachside restaurants and boardwalks also created light
pollution. Turtles rely on celestial light for essential visual
orientation. Artificial light interferes with these behavioral systems
causing disorientation which leads to exhaustion and sometimes death for
both hatchlings and adult sea turtles.
A hallmark of a great
society is one which protects animals that cannot protect themselves. We,
as humans, have greatly contributed to the decline and possible extinction
of the 100 million year old sea turtle species. We, as humans, have the
ability to stop this decline and begin their recovery.