We have all grown up listening to the story of the race between the hare and the turtle and how the turtle wins, giving us an understanding of the proverb, “Slow and steady wins the race.” But is that the only sea turtle fact we know?
I think not! Turtles are the symbol of intelligence and wisdom. That’s why we see so many cartoons using turtles as a wise character. Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda, being the most significant.
But where am I getting to with these examples?
Just like turtles depict rationality in fictional movies, they do much more than that in reality; for the oceans and the ecosystems! And that’s what this blog is all about!
Why are Sea Turtles Important?
To start with, sea turtles have been around for more than 100 million years! They are the cornerstone species, which means that their existence is quite essential for a healthy ocean. Like a cornerstone of a building, sea turtles set the base of a thriving oceanic ecosystem. Their absence would disrupt the natural order, resulting in a negative impact on the environment and marine life.
But what is it that sea turtles do to maintain the health of the oceans? They eat!
They keep the aquatic life balanced and regulated by simply eating it! Here’s how:
1. They Feed on Seagrass
The seagrass in the ocean bed is home to several marine species and provides oxygen to the ocean. But sometimes, it grows too long and suffocates on itself. Here’s where our green turtle friends come to the rescue! They graze on the seagrass, which keeps it from growing too long. In short, green sea turtles act as gardeners and keep the seagrass trimmed to healthy levels.
2. They Eat Sea Sponges
Sea sponges are fast-growing species and often compete with coral reefs for space. Coral reefs are relatively slow in growth, and therefore, the abundance of sea sponges hinders their growth by taking up most of the space. Hawksbill turtles feed on sea sponges, making space for the corals to grow and thrive.
3. They Snack on Jellyfish
Do you know what’s common between us humans and sea turtles? We both love jellies! Humans snack on gummy bears, while leatherback turtles snack on jellyfish. Although jellyfish are an important part of the ocean habitat, they feed on fish eggs and larvae, which is not very good for the fish population. The more the jellyfish, the fewer the fishes! Therefore, turtles eating jellyfish, keep them fewer in numbers, giving the fish a chance to survive.
Who knew the mere act of eating could benefit the ocean!
But apart from consuming various sea creatures to balance out the oceanic activities, sea turtles also provide food for some creatures.
Sea Turtles – A Food Source for Other Organisms
1. Turtle Eggs
Turtle eggs are extremely nutrient-rich and are a good source of food for land creatures such as crabs, raccoons, mongoose, dogs, cats, vultures, etc. These creatures dig up unhatched turtle eggs and feed on them.
2. Baby Sea Turtles
Sea turtles are also a vital part of the food chain. Baby sea turtles are a food source for various creatures, including fish and sea birds, while sharks and whales feed on adult sea turtles.
Epibionts are microscopic marine organisms that live on turtle shells. More than 125 different species can be found on the shell of a loggerhead turtle alone! Fish that dwell in coral reefs feed on these organisms directly from the shell, also cleaning them in the process. Talk about dinner on the go!
That’s how the life cycle goes on for the survival of marine life.
Environmental Benefits of Sea Turtles
Sea turtles play an integral role in keeping the ocean full of life and blooming, but did you know that they are important for the land also?
1. Sea Turtle Egg Shells as a Fertilizer
Once the sea turtle eggs hatch, the empty shells act as a fertilizer for beach vegetation. As mentioned earlier, they are full of nutrients and account for the growth of plants on the shoreline. The plants that take nourishment from empty eggshells serve as food to various other herbivores.
2. Generating Diversity
Many organisms like barnacles and algae live on sea turtles’ shells by attaching themselves to it. As turtles are known for migrating long distances, they carry these organisms with them. Transporting these species to coral reefs, sea beds, and ocean water helps generate and maintain diversity all across the world’s oceans.
With so many diverse benefits that the sea turtle provides, it’s quite distressing to know that the existence of our shelled friends is threatened!
Are Sea Turtles Endangered?
Yes! Six out of seven species of sea turtles are endangered.
Such marvelous creatures, at the risk of extinction, due to man-made threats including, coastal development, ocean pollution, and vessel strikes. With the sea turtles gone, the ocean will be in utter chaos!
We need to act now for the conservation of sea turtles. We can’t let these magnificent creatures go extinct.
We don’t want turtles to be limited to animated movies only! We want them to be around us, winning races, grazing seagrass, and migrating with hundreds of species thriving on their shells!
You can help us save the turtles by joining our cause at The Purpose for Earth Foundation, a non-profit organization that works for the creation of plastic-free oceans and the protection of marine creatures.
To read about how plastic is posing a threat to marine life, read our blog here.