Tuesday 23 May is World Turtle Day, a day to highlight and consider the conservation efforts of turtles, and the oceans, around the globe. Green turtles are found in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the globe, usually close to coral reefs and especially in nutrient rich waters.
Galapagos green turtles are endangered. They differ from other marine turtles by their serrated lower jaw and a single pair of scales covering their eyes. The Galapagos green turtle, Chelonia mydas agassisi, or Pacific green turtle, is a common sight in the reefs of Galapagos, particularly off the coasts of Bartolome, Santiago, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe and Floreana islands. Galapagos green turtles can reach a length of 84cm and are known to weigh up to 136kg. They are fast swimmers, travelling at speeds up to 35mph over long distances thanks to their powerful flippers. They are even able to sleep underwater, but only for a few hours at a time.
In recent years, global turtle population numbers have been falling. The modern day fishing industry is a serious threat; although turtles are strong swimmers they often become entangled in fishing gear. Weighed down by heavy nets, they are unable to surface and subsequently drown. Stress affects the time they can spend underwater, which explains why turtles drown relatively quickly when they caught in fishing nets.
Adults are primarily vegetarians while juveniles are more opportunistic, eating almost anything they find. The turtle’s favourite food is jellyfish, so wherever jellyfish are most abundant, turtles are bound to be close by. Unfortunately, plastic bags look the same as jellyfish when floating in the ocean. It is often the case that a turtle accidentally ingests a plastic bag, which forms a fatal blockage inside the turtle’s gut and usually resulting in death.
Introduced mammals such as rats and cats often eat hatchlings causing even greater infant mortality. Invasive species such as rats and pigs destroy the turtle’s nests and eat the eggs.
GCT’s Conservation Efforts
Galapagos green turtles are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List and the trade of Galapagos green turtle parts has been outlawed on the global market. Turtles appear on Appendix I of CITES and it is therefore illegal to trade in wild-caught specimens. Due to this law, the trade in turtle parts has dropped dramatically. However, across the world’s oceans these rules are often broken and fishers catch them to sell on the black market, predominantly in Asia.
Turtles are frequently spotted in the waters around Floreana island, and the bays around Santiago and Santa Cruz. The Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) is a protected area and turtles nest on many beaches across the archipelago. Eggs and nesting areas are protected on many beaches in the turtle’s tropical range. The Galapagos green turtle makes its way onto land once a year to lay its eggs. As with many reptiles, the gender of the hatchlings depends on the temperature the eggs are kept (females occurring at hotter temperatures) so scientists are debating the possibility of a skewed population; more females may hatch due to extended El Niño years and the phenomenon of global warming.
We are launching our new multi-year programme to reduce plastic pollution in the marine environment around Galapagos, where we will be focussing on the reduction of plastic use in the Archipelago, as well as educating the local communities on safer, more environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic. We are also launching our second flagship programme to restore Floreana island back to its former ecological glory by removing invasive species in order to allow native species to thrive, including the Galapagos green turtle.