To celebrate World Turtle Day 2017 we asked Christine Parfitt, marine biologist and founder of Bottle for Botol, how BfB is addressing some of the threats facing turtles in Indonesia?
To start, perhaps you can give us a summary of the lifecycle of a turtle?
Turtles are marine animals that spend almost their entire life in the ocean. As adults they can be as small as 60cm (Olive Ridleys) and as large as 160cm (leatherback turtles). At about 20 years of age (but sometimes as old as 50), a female turtle will reach maturity, return to the beach she was born and lay up to 200 eggs; she will return many times during the breeding season repeating the process. After 60 days, the baby turtles will hatch all at once and walk along the sand and into the ocean often at night time when the ocean appears bright because it is reflecting light from the moon. About 1 in 1000 baby turtles will become adult turtles.
Chrstine Parfit with children in West Bali releasing turtle hatchlings from the turtle conservation project in Perancak
What are some of the biggest threats to turtles worldwide?
Turtles are threated by humans at every stage in their life.
As eggs, climate change is changing the temperature of the sand and as a result, we are finding more female turtles are born because their sex is determined by the temperature of the sand. Sea level rise is also problematic and many eggs are getting washed away in more frequent storms. Turtle eggs in many countries are considered an aphrodisiac and are harvested by humans and sold in local markets.
Once the turtles have hatched, they have many natural predators – in remote parts of Australia, they will be eaten by bandicoots, crabs, seagulls, sharks and more. They have adapted to these predators and this is why so many eggs are laid.
In some parts of the world the areas where turtles hatch are brightly lit from hotels, housing and also mining operations. The turtles (attracted to the light thinking it is the ocean) walk towards these brightly lit areas and can get run over by cars, or just lost on the streets.
While it is now illegal in most countries, adult turtles are often harvested for their meat. In Indonesia, turtle meat was traditionally used in ceremonies; in Australia, traditionally eaten as a source of protein and in South America, in soups.
One of the biggest threats however is fishing. Turtles can get caught in nets or on fishing lines. Many scientists are involved in developing new technologies to mitigate these impacts, but the fishermen still need to implement these new technologies in order to solve the problem. Finally, plastic is a huge problem, impacting not only turtles but hundreds of species of marine life.
Why is plastic pollution such a big threat to sea turtle populations?
Many turtles eat jellyfish as a regular part of their diet. Have you ever tried to tell the difference between a jellyfish and a plastic bag underwater? It’s tough!
If a turtle eats a plastic bag, a number of things can happen:
What is Bottle for Botol doing to address plastic pollution?
At Bottle for Botol we teach students all about plastic and we work with them to develop solutions to this problem. We change the way students access drinking water at schools (instead of purchasing plastic cups of water, students purchase refills from a water dispenser that we supply) and we give each student who has completed our education program a stainless steel water bottle for them to refill. We show the students that simple solutions can have a big impact and encourage them to develop and act on their own ideas.
Do you collaborate with other organisations who work in turtle conservation?
We collaborate on a small scale with a local turtle conservation project in West Bali. When we bring visitors to West Bali, we visit this centre and assist with donations for the direct release of any hatchlings. I previously volunteered with this conservation centre and they are doing a fantastic job of preventing people from eating turtle eggs.
If people want to help tackle the plastic pollution problem, what can they do?
You can try minimising the amount of single-use plastic that you use.
Written by Catherine Elliott, Dode Gargitha and Alice Sainsbury.