Celebrating Turtles

May 23: While we observe National Library Workers Day and National Lucky Penny Day on this day, it is also used to celebrate one of the oldest reptiles on the planet, ones that have been around since the time of dinosaurs – turtles!

World Turtle Day is observed every year on the 23rd of May and has been for the last 23 years. This day aims to celebrate and create awareness of these fascinating creatures (and tortoises as well) and tries to encourage more people to help them, as nearly all species of sea turtles are endangered.

While the hatchlings of turtles are in danger due to predators like birds, crabs, and fish, the main threat to turtles is humans. Turtles are subject to poaching and over-exploitation for their eggs, meat, skin and shells. They can also be affected when they are caught in fishing nets by accident (known as bycatch), are tangled in debris and when beaches face destruction.

The endangerment of turtles is a serious concern as they are a keystone species, meaning if they were removed from the ecosystem, all the other species would be impacted. Hatchlings and turtles are a source of food for many animals, the turtles control the population of their prey, and turtles are essential for people who run turtle-watching ecotourism businesses.

Fortunately, as awareness increases, more people, governments, and conservation organizations are helping protect turtles. For example, an international agreement made it illegal to trade turtles, their eggs, shells and meat; new fishing gear designs and fishing practices are being used to reduce bycatch; and organizations are working to reduce sources of debris.

The writer Adhiti Tandle volunteering at the MCBT

This year’s theme for World Turtle Day is “I love turtles” which strives to encourage more people to acknowledge the significance of these reptiles and the threats they are facing. To help, there are some steps we can take. We can participate in beach clean-ups, keep nesting beaches dark for sea turtles, remove any possible obstacles from beaches, and try to reduce plastic usage as it might end up as marine debris. It is also possible to volunteer at organizations like the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT).

I had the opportunity to volunteer there a couple of years back and help clean the closure of the Aldabra tortoises and bathe them as well. It was a truly great experience and helped me learn a lot about the Aldabra tortoises and reptiles in general. In these and many other ways, we can all do our part and help these magnificent creatures thrive again!

Featured image: Searching for Sea Turtles in Raja Ampat | Papua Paradise

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