They’re back! Audiences everywhere are preparing to watch as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles blast onto the screen once again in a much anticipated reboot of the ’90s cult classic. If anything could use a reboot in real life, however, it’s the number of turtles and tortoises still thriving in the wild. Turtles have roamed this earth for millions of years, counting themselves amongst one of the oldest types of animals in existence and yet their numbers are falling dramatically. With several species listed as critically endangered, it sure would be nice if they all came equipped with the ninja skills of their fictional, mutant counterparts to fight off the danger they faced every day.
Sadly, real turtles need more protecting than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would. In the wild, these gentle creatures face many obstacles that largely contribute to their alarmingly dwindling numbers. Though some dangers that turtles encounter are part of their natural world, most are a direct result of human behaviors. Changing these behaviors and practices is critical to helping these animals avoid all out extinction, which can only happen with education and activism. Which got us thinking, who would be better to fight for turtle conservation than the Ninja Turtles themselves?
Leonardo: “Get ready Guys, I’m Gonna Make Bycatch My Biya#&@”
Commercial fishing industries do plenty of things that cause harm to the environment, with dirty fishing practices being chief among them. By using outdated equipment like gillnets or by trawling these companies often catch turtles as well as shark, whales and dolphins in their nets. Monitored at infrequent intervals, these animals, or bycatch, are left to drown in the nets. With alternative practices and updated equipment designed to combat this problem, these companies have the ability to avoid bycatch and stop contributing the the already depleted number of turtles found in the wild.
Donatello: “You Go Leonardo! I’m Plotting My Way to Slay Plastic Pollution”
With so much awareness on decreasing plastic consumption these days, one would think that the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans would go down. Unfortunately, the cases of fatal entanglement or ingestion of marine debris has increased 40 percent over the last decade. Because animals are largely unable to differentiate between the debris and food, many marine animals are found dead every year with bellies filled with plastic that they couldn’t digest, causing them to starve to death. Leatherback turtles are specifically effected due to their inability to tell the difference between a plastic bag and the jellyfish that comprise a large part of their diet. Reusable bags are the best bet to keeping more and more plastic from ending up in the ocean.
Raphael: “Don’t Wait Up Leo and Don, I’m Making These Egg Poachers Run for Their Mamas!”
Getting turtles to reach adulthood is a Herculean feat in and of itself without adding the theft of their eggs before they’re even hatched to the mix. While many countries forbid poaching turtle eggs, the practice still goes on and the results are less and less turtles having a chance to even make it into the world. Turtle eggs have a three month gestation period and it’s vital that their nests be left undisturbed in order to give the hatchlings a fighting chance to survive. Education and monitoring of hatching grounds can stop poaching along with enforcing legislation that’s already in place.
Michelangelo: “Don’t Worry Fellas, I’ve got These Hunters Shell-Shocked!”
Turtles continue to be hunted across the globe for their colorful shells in order to produce things like jewelry, combs and knickknacks. This practice has particularly effected Hawksbill sea turtles, which have decreased in number by 90 percent over the last 100 years. Though the sale of items made from turtle shells is illegal, a thriving black market exists for them due to cultural demand and ignorance of the damage these products cause. By refusing to purchase tortoise shell items and supporting conservation groups so their efforts to stop these abuses can continue, we can try to stop this illegal practice before it’s too late.
What are some other ways we mere mortals could help turtles get more “turtle power?” Let us know in the comments.