There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of many people. It has been a difficult time for all of us and has completely impacted our day-to-day lives. In the midst of restrictions on travel, beach access, business accessibility, and social distancing; some wildlife has flourished. From the air quality in Los Angeles to the rivers in India, wildlife and ecosystems have benefitted from the lack of human activity. Recent research shows a positive change in the nesting populations of sea turtles.
Leatherback Sea Turtles...They’re Back!
Marine biologists found a positive increase in the population of the endangered leatherback sea turtle. When we take a look at the main causes of species decline, we can see that a lot of these causes have been temporarily mitigated by the global pandemic. These causes are loss of nest-building sites, bycatch caused by fishing practices, harvesting of sea turtle eggs, and plastic ingestion. With beaches closed, fewer vessels in the ocean, and quieter habitats; the leatherback sea turtle has been able to recover during the past couple of months. This is a critical time for these turtles as they build their nesting sites, and then baby sea turtles hatch out and begin their journey to the big blue. Usually, this season tragically lines up with summer activities, tourism, and increased beach activity. However, this year, the turtles have a better chance.
When marine biologists surveyed the number of nests this past nesting season (back in April), they saw an increase of nests when they compared the data to previous seasons. The offspring that hatch from these eggs will likely have a better chance of survival without the impacts of human interference including lights, noise, egg-theft, extraneous debris, and disruptive activity.
It’s A Global Affair
In addition to increasing nest numbers and populations in Florida, researchers have seen similar effects in Phuket, Thailand. It was stated in Forbes that the nests are “at their highest levels for 20 years.” Human activity had prevented any successful nest building during that past few nesting seasons.
Similarly, at Rushikulya River Mouth Beach in India, there have been increased sightings of olive ridley turtles during nesting season.
Food for Thought
As marine biologists, directors of sea turtle rescue centers, and conservation leaders express their excitement about this rise in numbers; they also recognize that this could be a one-time shift or a temporary increase that may not last. However, it does show that wildlife can be positively or negatively impacted by human activity. Perhaps when things return to “normal,” we can carry out some of these positive effects by changing wildlife management. There are conservationists that are looking at nesting habitat protection and regulations to put into place to help these sea turtles and their population recovery thrive.
Photo Source: World Wildlife Fund
I hope this gives you a sense of hope for wildlife, and a real look into how we can help endangered species during this pandemic. It is definitely a bright-side perspective among a lot of difficult and devastating effects that COVID-19 has had on our communities.
Almost all of the seven species of sea turtle are endangered, with three of those being critically endangered. Most of the causes of population decline are anthropogenic. Sea turtles are herbivores that create homes for other marine life, keep the seagrass and coral populations balanced, and contribute to nutrient cycling in the ocean. They play a huge part in the health of ocean habitats, and it is extremely important to protect them. These beautiful animals are highly migratory and distributed on a global scale, so it will be a worldwide effort to save them.
I wish you well during these difficult times and hope that you are all staying safe and healthy.
Written By: Bailey Higa