Today, Monday May 23, we celebrate World Turtle Day!
Started in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue, World Turtle Day is an opportunity for people to learn more about turtles and help protect them and their habitats, which are rapidly disappearing around the world.
About American Tortoise Rescue
Since its inception, American Tortoise Rescue has rescued well over 3,000 turtles and tortoises of all species with 70 percent being land tortoises and the remainder water turtles! The in-house population “floats” at about 125.
Some key facts about tortoises and turtles
- All turtles and tortoises are reptiles that go back about 220 million years; they vary in size from fitting in your hand to about 817 kilograms!
- Turtles spend most of their lives in water while tortoises are land animals;
- The largest sea turtle species is the leatherback turtle which weighs 272 to 680 kilograms and is about 139 to 160 centimeters long, according to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF). It can dive up to 900 meters below the ocean surface!
- The Galápagos tortoise grows up to 183 cm long and can weigh up to 260 kg.
For more than 100 million years’ marine turtles have covered vast distances across the world’s oceans, performing a vital and integral role in marine and coastal ecosystems. Over the last 200 years human activities have tipped the scales against the survival of these ancient mariners.
Today, three of the seven existing species of marine turtle are critically endangered.
Conservation efforts in the Dominican Republic
Several conservation efforts have been put in place in the Dominican Republic to protect the green sea turtle, given its status as an endangered species.
Despite the existence, since 1962, of Dominican laws for the protection of sea turtles, species such as hawksbills are frequently captured for the use of meat and carapace for the tortoiseshell trade.
In 2000, the General Law of Environment and Natural Resources was passed, introducing several articles for sea turtle protection including prohibiting egg take and capture of juveniles and adult turtles. However, implementation of this legislation remains problematic given that funding and logistics are an issue, particularly as illegal take of eggs and captures at sea are frequent. The development of beach tourism over the last decade has also increased construction in coastal areas and degraded many nesting beaches.
Laws themselves are therefore not always a sufficient deterrent for poachers, and urgent conservation action from NGOs and government representatives is clearly needed.
Dominican NGOs acting against poaching
Hunting and egg collection for consumption are major causes of the drastic decline in marine turtle populations around the world. Green turtles are caught for their meat, eggs and calipee.
On August 20, 2013 a rescue operation was put in place by the ministry of the Environment at the Gri Gri Lagoon in Rio San Juan, which is part of the María Trinidad Sánchez province. The focus of the operation was to save green sea turtles that had been captured by local residents to be used as mascots or attractions for local tourists in the freshwater lagoon.
This endangered species which depends on the saltwater of the ocean to feed itself and complete its lifecycle, faced a very grim future before the government stepped in.
Indeed, having been carefully removed from the lagoon and reinserted into the Caribbean Sea, the sea turtle can now return to its long migration route which extends from the Caribbean Sea all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
This is what happened during the green turtle rescue:
Please help spread the word about this important observance day using the hashtag #WorldTurtleDay or by liking the official Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WorldTurtleDay/