23 May is World Turtle Day, a day to shine a light on the plight of the world’s turtles. At Jenman Madagascar Safaris we obviously have a special place in our heart for Madagascar and its wonderful and varied flora and fauna. We believe it’s important to spread awareness about the challenges these species face. We were one of the first tour operators to provide trips to the island, and want everyone to experience that magical feeling of snorkeling along and coming across a gorgeous Green sea turtle gently grazing on some sea grass.
The white sand beaches of Madagascar are an important nesting ground for 2 types of sea turtles, namely Hawksbill and Green sea turtles. If you have ever taken part in an eco-tourism experience of observing the nesting and hatching, and were privileged enough to spot these adorable little hatchlings flopping about to make their way across the sand you know what a precious and moving moment it can be, one that should be protected for future generations.
When sea turtles breed they come ashore at night crawling up the beach to find a secure spot to dig a nest and lay their eggs. Male sea turtles spend practically their whole lives at sea and it’s only the females who make this journey onto land. The little hatchlings will emerge 2 months later and then can take up to a week to dig their way out of the sandy nest. From there they make their way back to the ocean by the light of the moon, to be swept away to their new home in the water. We don’t know much about their life under the ocean, besides that it’s where they eat and grow impressively large (up to 400 kg). If the females survive to maturity they will return to the same spot where they were born to continue the life cycle. However, chances of survival are slim. Only 1 in 1000 sea turtle babies will live on to adulthood.
Besides the natural predators of the ocean, human encroachment is the turtles’ biggest threat. Illegal poaching is number one, but there are also other factors such as heavy coastal development. Rising global temperatures also have a detrimental impact on sea turtles’ food and reproduction. The warmer temperatures and increased acidity of the oceans affect the survival of some of their food sources, such as mollusks. The gender of a sea turtle is dependent on the temperature of the sand the eggs are buried in, and if temperatures continue to rise only female sea turtles will be born and they will have no males to mate with.
Unfortunately, many Madagascan citizens still poach turtles for food or sell their eggs and shells. Education is important for the citizens as well as the tourists, we always strongly advise our guests not to buy any animal products on their trips. Better employment opportunities, for example via tourism, is another way for Malagasy people to lift themselves out of poverty and in turn not have to resort to desperate measures.
What can you do to help the sea turtles? You can reduce your carbon footprint in an effort to combat global warming. Reduce your use of plastic packets and don’t litter, sea turtles often mistake plastic packets in the ocean for jellyfish and eat them, with disastrous consequences. For your next holiday, choose an eco-tourism option with a proven track record of protecting endangered species.
Sea turtles have been around for over a hundred million years and were on earth during the time of the dinosaurs. Today, their species is endangered and if we’re not careful they may meet the same fate as their prehistoric friends.
Keep the sea turtle in mind when you’re on holiday in Madagascar, and make positive choices at home to protect the world we all share!