Mid-winter in Minnesota might have you longing for a sunny tropical beach, with palm trees swaying overhead and waves gently lapping at your feet. While these beaches serve as the subjects of our cold weather daydreams, they also often provide important nesting sites for sea turtles.
Globally, there are 7 species of sea turtles, with 6 species found in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The Minnesota Zoo currently provides a home to two sea turtles– a Kemp’s ridley and a green turtle – that were rescued after being struck by boats and are unable to be released into the wild.
Sea turtles face many threats in the wild. They become entangled in fishing gear, their eggs are illegally collected by people, and their habitats are disappearing or deteriorating. One of the biggest future challenges facing sea turtles is climate change, which can impact the availability of nesting beaches, the ratio of males : females, and the foods upon which sea turtles feed. With perhaps 1 in 1,000 sea turtle eggs surviving the decade or more required to reach maturity, the path to recovery can be difficult and requires patience.
Minnesota Zoo’s Field Conservation Supervisor, Dr. Seth Stapleton, manages a long-term hawksbill sea turtle research and conservation project based on a small island off the coast of Antigua in the eastern Caribbean. For three decades, teams of field researchers have monitored this key nesting beach for the critically endangered hawksbill. This work has provided important insights, including that hawksbills nest 4 – 5 times per season, laying an average of 150 ping pong ball-sized eggs per nest, but only return to nest about every 2 – 4 (or more) years. With the support of a dedicated and passionate island community, this nesting population has grown by more than 150% since the onset of monitoring in 1987! Some populations elsewhere in the region are showing similar signs of long-term growth and recovery.
And here’s some more good news: you can take action from right here in Minnesota to benefit sea turtles! Small steps to mitigate climate change like unplugging computer and phone chargers that are not in use and turning off the lights when you leave the room can really add up and will ultimately help sea turtles and other wildlife. Recycling and composting to minimize the amount of trash you produce – which might not always remain in Minnesota – are other small but important actions you can take. If you travel, be a responsible tourist: do not interfere with wildlife by getting too close or trying to touch them, put your trash in a designated bin, and follow local regulations. Ensuring a future with sea turtles and a healthy marine environment requires all of us, and as our friends with the Barbados Sea Turtle Project noted, we all should get up and do our part!
Learn more: watch Minnesota Zoo staff talk about sea turtle conservation in a recent video from the Zoo’s Our World Speaker Series