For more than 100 million years, sea turtles have been roaming the Earth’s oceans. In an unfortunate change of tide, sea turtles have become an endangered species, which has in turn affected the ocean's ecosystem.
The decline in the number of sea turtles is due to many reasons. Entrapment in fishing gear, choking on marine debris and destroyed nesting grounds are among the main threats they face. To turn things around, some wildlife organizations have taken actions to save the species.
The Gulf Green Turtle Conservation is among the note-worthy initiatives concerned with saving the sea turtles. The conservation project is the result of a collaborative effort between the Emirati Wildlife Society (EWS) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). With the aim of protecting sea turtles in the UAE and surrounding areas, this initiative is critical for the future of sea turtles in the region.
The project has an expected duration of four years. During this time, marine biologists will gather data on the species. The collected data will help scientists identify important areas for sea turtles. Scientists will also collect more research data by DNA sampling and tagging turtles. The hope is that all of this data will provide a scientific base for policymakers to make decisions and develop policies that would protect the turtles and save their habitats.
A Keystone Species
Preserving sea turtles is of crucial importance to the entire ocean ecosystem. Sea turtles are one of the few creatures that eat sea grass. This process is essential to the survival of sea grass beds, which are used as developing grounds for many species. Fish, shellfish and crustaceans that come in at the bottom of the marine food chain depend on these sea grass beds, and any disturbance to the food chain could have a rippling effect on many other creatures.
“The species we are working on in this project are green turtles, which are associated with sea grass habitats,” Marina Antonopoulou, conservation team leader at EWS-WWF, told EuroNews. “And this habitat is not only important for marine turtles but also for marine life in general. And what we want to do by using marine turtles is to identify important areas for biodiversity that can be conserved for the whole marine ecosystem.”
Defenders of the Ocean
Sea turtles also play an important role in curbing the size of the jellyfish population. A species that is hundreds of millions of years old, jellyfish are very adaptable and are fearful of only a few natural predators. Taking one of their main predators out of the picture will leave this invasive species completely uncontested.
The declining number of sea turtles is a contributing factor to jellyfish blooms, which are characterized as a seasonal surge in jellyfish numbers. A recent jellyfish bloom has recently affected many Mediterranean shores, including Egypt’s northern coast.
Increasing numbers of jellyfish have a catastrophic impact on the environment. They can wipe out other species and even cause damage to human facilities. Operators of Oskarshamn nuclear facility in southeast Sweden had to reset their reactor after tons of jellyfish clogged the reactor's cooling water pipes.
Jellyfish causing damage to a nuclear plant is not a first. Such incidents have happened before around the world and the damage caused by jellyfish could end with catastrophic results. Sea turtles are one of nature’s safeguards that protect the oceans from out-of-control jellyfish populations that can wreak havoc in all sorts of ways.
Scientists may be uncertain about the exact importance of some marine species. What is certain is the fact that the Earth’s ecosystem is very sensitive. The extinction or population increase of a species can have catastrophic results on the entire ecosystem, which in turn has the potential to negatively affect humans.
The hopes are high for initiatives such as the Gulf Green Sea Turtle to save what can be saved before the damage is permanent and irreversible.