Turtles in danger
Sea turtles have few natural predators in adulthood although tiger sharks and killer whales have been known to prey on them. They are however extremely vulnerable when young and particularly as hatchlings when they can be attacked by mammals, birds, crabs and fish amongst others. Nests of eggs make an attractive food source to many scavengers.
However, by far the most dangerous predators of turtles are humans.
Turtles and their eggs are valuable commodities on the black market. Many view turtle eggs as an aphrodisiac; as a symbol of fertility and they are exported to other Asian countries for this reason. Hundreds of thousands of eggs are stolen every year.
The hell of the turtle is used for ornamental purposes such as hair slides and combs and its rarity ensures high demand. The highly endangered Hawksbill has been hunted to the brink of extinction for its carapace, used for the illegal ‘tortoiseshell’ trade. In Sri Lanka, where poverty is widespread, sea turtle nests occurring on the South and Southwest coast are robbed of their eggs by poachers for sale on the black market.
Nesting green turtle females (the most common turtle in Sri Lanka) are slaughtered for their meat, a Pan-Asian delicacy. Thousands are killed a year. The high yield of good quality meat and the ease with which turtles can be caught has made them particularly desirable food items in coastal communities around the world. Turtle soup, common on menus across Asia, is considered by many to be a rare delicacy.
The fishing industry in the seas around the island of Sri Lanka is key to the economy. However, many turtles meet their end by becoming entangled accidentally in fisherman’s nets. This number is as high as 300,000 per annum worldwide. Furthermore, turtles are vulnerable to extreme weather, habitat degradation/loss and sea or beach pollution; much of which has been caused by human activity.
Human activity on beaches can also deter turtles from nesting and use of artificial lighting near beaches has been known to disorientate both nesting turtles and hatchlings.