Effect of Tourism on Sea Turtles

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Muhammad Usama Imran                Biology Coursework

Candidate No. 0374                        Centre No. 14737

Threats to Marine Turtle Survival

The Problems, Risks to Turtles and Examples

Today the seven species of marine turtle that swim our oceans are all included on the World Conservation Union's (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species [1]. Before human intervention, it was thought that only one in one thousand turtle eggs actually survived to become adults. With human as well as natural threats, it is estimated to be up to one in ten thousand [2].


Figure one clearly illustrates how the number of leatherback turtles nesting has fallen in Playa Grande and Ventanas, popular tourist destinations. There has been 95% decrease in the number of female leatherbacks between 1988 and 2002 and there are multiple reasons that have contributed to such a steep fall. This report will concentrate on tourism related threats.

Unfortunately human threats now add to threats posed by nature and if it was not difficult enough to survive before, turtles now have to contend with problems we create. Marine turtles breathe with lungs. This forces them to surface in order to inhale air. The heart (see figure 2) consists of two atriums but one ventricle and results in an incomplete double circulatory system. This allows them to bear high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. Blood and muscle tissue can accumulate large quantities of oxygen. These features allow turtles to stay underwater and sleep for up to 6 hours [3]. Along with this, the turtles also like to bask lazily at the sea surface, for hours at a time. This makes them vulnerable to being hit speedboats and jet skis.

Turtles find jellyfish irresistible for their appetite. They often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and consume tar balls and chunks of polythene left by tourist. These items enter the digestive system (and sometimes the respiratory system) and block it. As they can tolerate high levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in their blood they die a very slow but painful death.

Female turtles surface at night to lay their eggs near the back of sandy beaches. Turtles have one bone in the ear to conduct sound and are therefore especially sensitive to low frequency sounds like ground vibrations [4]. They are very nervous when laying eggs, and can be intimidated by any noise, movement or lights. Because turtles surface during our holiday season, most of the noise, movement and lighting come from bars, hotels and tourists on the beach. If a turtle is disturbed she will retreat back to the sea and if this is repeated, she will just dump her eggs in the ocean, where they will certainly perish.

Having buried the eggs into the sand, the turtle returns back to the sea. Being ecotherms, the eggs need to be incubated in the heat of the Sun. Very often the beaches where the eggs are laid are also tourist hotspots. Beach furniture placed above the nesting ground forms a shadow over it and without any heat to maintain body temperature, the hatchlings often die. Vehicles that drive across the nesting ground compact the sand and make it very difficult for the baby turtles to surface after they break through the egg.

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When the hatchlings surface from the sand, they locate their way to sea by following lowest, brightest horizon which is created by the natural reflection of the moon on the sea. Unfortunately, there are other bright horizons such as hotels and bars. These buildings attract turtles inland, where can get crushed by people and cars.

Solutions, Benefits to Turtles and Examples

There are multiple solutions available to each threat presented by humans but with all being directly or indirectly linked to tourism; the resolutions have to be viable and feasible enough for tourist organisations and local governments to accept.

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