Treasured creatures of the sea
Last year when I was in the Galapagos, one of the highlights of this extraordinary wildlife adventure was a chance to snorkel with Pacific green sea turtles.
They are exquisitely graceful creatures, flapping gently beneath the waves in search of food, their wizened faces close enough at times to touch — although we didn’t, of course.
Having had such magical encounters with sea turtles, I’ve felt anguish over their plight in the Gulf oil spill.
There have been few more wrenching images than animals drenched in viscous, rust-colored oil, like the sea turtle pictured here.
Caught in the line of fire
Even more horrific is the discovery that BP and the U.S. Coast Guard have been incinerating sea turtles in oil-burning operations that are part of the Gulf clean-up effort.
Thankfully, a lawsuit brought by the environmental group Turtle Island Restoration Network has ensured that sea turtles will now be removed from burn sites before the oil is set afire.
In a tragic manner, the disaster in the Gulf has drawn more public attention to the plight of sea turtles generally, which are among the world’s most mesmerizing — and most threatened — creatures.
Three of seven existing species of sea turtles are critically endangered. Marine turtles worldwide are struggling in the face of a number of environmental problems, from commercial longline fishing and shrimp nets that ensnare loggerhead turtles in the Gulf of Mexico to pollution, including mercury poisoning. Poaching sea turtle eggs and leather is also an ongoing problem.
Participate in protection
But you can help, and have a fantastic vacation at the same time. Exciting opportunities exist for eco-travelers who love nature and wildlife to both see and aid sea turtles through conservation efforts. On Natural Habitat Adventures’ Mexico’s Sea Turtles trip, guests help patrol the beach where olive ridley turtles come ashore to nest, and assist in a safe return to the sea for the tiny hatchlings.
Sea Turtle Conservation Travel provides opportunities for volunteers to participate with turtle protection projects in three locations.
Help study and monitor up to five species of turtles in Baja California Sur. View nesting turtles and protect their critical habitat in Costa Rica. Snorkel with leatherback turtles in the clear waters of Tobago while also helping to guard nests on the beach against poachers and predators.
Feature photo credit: Marco Giuliano, NOAA