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Why Are Sea Turtles Endangered?

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.  

 Traditionally, sea 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.



Stranded Hawksbill Turtle

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.




West Indies Marine Animal Research and Conservation Service, Inc.

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