OVERHARVESTING AND ILLEGAL TRADE
Sea turtles continue to be harvested unsustainably both for human consumption and trade of their parts. Turtle meat and eggs are a source of food and income for many people around the world. Some also kill turtles for medicine and religious ceremonies. Tens of thousands of sea turtles are lost this way every year, overwhelming populations of already endangered greens and hawksbills.
The killing of turtles for both domestic and international markets continues as well. International sales in all sea turtle species and their parts are banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a global agreement between governments to regulate or ban global trade in species under threat. Still, illegal trafficking continues.
Sea turtles are dependent on beaches for nesting. Uncontrolled coastal development, vehicle traffic on beaches, and other human activities have quickly destroyed or disturbed sea turtle nesting beaches around the world. For example, lights from roads and buildings disorient hatchlings away from the sea, and vehicle traffic on beaches compacts the sand, making it impossible for female turtles to dig nests. Turtle feeding grounds such as coral reefs and seagrass beds are damaged and destroyed by activities onshore, including sedimentation from the clearing of land and nutrient run-off from agriculture. Beach restoration projects for protecting seaside buildings have also been found to be harmful, through dredging and sand filling.
All stages of a sea turtle's life are affected by environmental conditions such as temperature—even the sex of offspring. Unusually warm temperatures caused by climate change are disrupting the normal ratios, resulting in fewer male hatchlings.
Warmer sea surface temperatures can also lead to the loss of important foraging grounds for sea turtles, while increasingly difficult storms and sea-level rise can destroy critical nesting beaches and damage nests.
Sea turtles can mistake floating plastic materials for jellyfish and can choke on them when they try to eat them. These encounters are often fatal. Lost or discarded fishing gear—called ghost gear—entangles sea turtles and can drown or render a turtle unable to feed or swim. Litter on beaches can catch hatchlings and prevent them from reaching the ocean. Oil spills also poison sea turtles of all ages.