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World Turtle Day: A Look at Why Half of the Animal's Species are Going Extinct

May 23, 2013 04:00 PM EDT
Green Sea Turtle
Costa Rica's longline fisheries threaten the survival of sea turtles and sharks living in the eastern Pacific, a study in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology suggests.
(Photo : Reuters)

March 23 marks the thirteenth annual World Turtle Day, as decreed by the organization American Tortoise Rescue (ATR).

Started in order to “increase respect and knowledge for the world’s oldest creatures,” the ATR states on its site that due to the pet trade, these days mark “a very sad time for turtles and tortoises of the world.”

According to a 2011 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), nearly half of more than the 300 species of turtles are threatened with extinction - a plight equaled only by primates.

Furthermore, the IUCN warns, the impact of losing them goes far beyond fewer pet options.

“Turtles and tortoises are major biodiversity components of the ecosystems they inhabit, often serving as keystone species from which other animals and plants benefit,” the report explains.

And while the reasons for their disappearance abound, according to the IUCN, all of them go back to the same source: humans.

Because of this, in order to make sure that the animals that have been around since the dinosaurs don't go the way of the way of their former peers, the report states an intervention is needed.  

Among the most significant movements of late focused on minimizing human interference in the life of turtles is that of different towns, including Pensacola, Fla., to keep artificial light exposure over the ocean at a minimum.

The reason this is so important, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has to do with when the turtles hatch, which occurs at night. Because the small creatures orient themselves toward light, which traditionally came from the stars and moons, instead of making their way into the ocean, many of the newborn turtles are found scooting their way toward boardwalks or endlessly down the shore.

Other ways individuals are welcome to contribute include donating one’s boat to the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, adopting a sea turtle nest or simply becoming a member of the organization devoted to promoting education, awareness and protection of turtles.

Furthermore, through the Sea Turtle Conservancy, individuals can become a “turtle guardian” by adopting an endangered sea turtle.

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