Shellebrating World Turtle Day
World Turtle day was founded by American Tortoise in 2000 As most of you will know, some of the world's most endangered species are Chelonia (turtles and tortoises to you and I). A lack of understanding, increased fishing, pollution, habitat loss, international pet trade and poaching for food have all lead to these amazing creatures being increasingly endangered.
"According to ATR co-founder Susan Tellem, the holiday is meant to generally boost interest in turtles while also specifically reducing ecological pressure from the pet trade."
"World Turtle Day was started to increase respect and knowledge for the world's oldest creatures," she says in a press release. "These gentle animals have been around for about 200 million years, yet they are rapidly disappearing as a result of the exotic food industry, habitat destruction, global warming and the cruel pet trade." The ultimate goal, she adds, "is to stop the illegal trade in turtles and tortoises around the world."
Organisations Saving the Turtles
Luckily there are some awesome organisations out there who strive to help our shelled friends and protect their habitat. In Malaysia there has been a growing trend of people taking native baby turtles as a food source and in 2011 co-founders Dr. Chan Eng Heng and Dr.Chen Pelf Nyok set up the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS) when it was realised that there was not an organisation or agency in charge of the tortoises and freshwater turtles in the country, despite being home to 18 native species. TCS is the first non-governmental and non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of freshwater turtles in Malaysia. The Society aims to bring about the recovery of depleted wild populations of turtles, concerning freshwater turtles, in Malaysia.
The Southern river terrapin (Batagur affinis) is a critically endangered species of freshwater turtle that is only found in southern Thailand, Cambodia and Peninsular Malaysia. It is listed as one of the top 25 most critically endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles in the world. In Malaysia, they are listed as a protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. The collection and consumption of river terrapin eggs, coupled with habitat destruction, have caused the drastic decline of the river terrapin populations in Malaysia.
Over the years that the project has been running, the group who call themselves the ‘terrapin guardians’, have successfully saved over 3,800 eggs from human consumption and successfully hatched, raised and released over 3,200 hatchlings back into their habitat, with this year’s incubation and predicted hatch rate, the society is likely to see one of the highest success rates of the years.
Closer to home a growing issue is former pet turtles and terrapins being released into UK water ways. These tiny terrapins, usually bought from pet shops or garden centres when they're around the size of a 50p coin, quickly grow out of their small tanks and require more frequent cleaning and so families are left unable to care for them properly. A lack of awareness means often they release them into rivers or lakes, thinking that they will be much happier when in truth they simply struggle to survive the harsh conditions after becoming accustomed to warm temperatures in their mimicked natural habitat.
There are several turtle and terrapin rescue centres across the UK including The National Turtle Sanctuary and the National Centre for Reptile Welfare who are not only providing forever homes for the unwanted pets but also raising awareness in the purchasing and keeping of non native turtle species.
In 2016 the invasive alien species regulation, a new legislative act, was introduced preventing the sale or release of specific terrapin species, making it illegal for future sales and in turn lessening the demand therefore preventing the capture of the eggs in their native countries.
Awareness days such as World Turtle Day are vital to the survival of endangered species and other issues our planet battles. As the world becomes increasingly aware of the dangers that our wildlife around the faces the desire to combat these are also on the rise. Thanks to amazing organisations around the world our precious wildlife can look forward to a more positive future.
How we can help turtles.
1. Use less plastic. Plastic has a nasty habit of ending up in waterways and oceans so the less we use the less chance there is of it ending up causing issues to marine life.
2. Never pick up a turtle or their eggs. If you see a turtle that looks ok do not pick it up. If you see an injured turtle or one that's in clear danger call an expert.
3. Never buy turtles as pets. As cute as they are, turtles and terrapins don't thrive as pets. Purchasing turtles also contributes to the illegal pet trade encouraged by demand.
4. Clean up the beach. On your next visit to the beach why not spend a few minutes picking up any litter you see? If every person removes a small amount it's a small amount that won't end up in the ocean.
5. Help to raise awareness. Whether that's simply sharing this blog, writing your social media post or starting your own campaign, every small effort contributes to saving our turtle friends.