Turtles

Turtles


Four species of turtles can be found in the Egyptian Red Sea: the green (Chelonia mydas) and the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles that nest and feed on the coast; the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), called the gentle giant by some, that is rarely seen nowadays and the olive-ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), the smallest of the turtle species and which prefers to stay far from the coast and, like the leatherback, is only rarely seen. A fifth species, the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), known for its big head, can usually be spotted in the Gulf of Aden but rarely reaches the Egyptian Red Sea. At present, the International Union for nature conservation lists them as critically endangered (leatherback and hawksbill turtles), endangered (green and loggerhead turtles) and vulnerable (olive-ridley turtle).

In the Red Sea, the main threats to sea turtles come from irresponsible coastal development that destroys nesting beaches and feeding grounds such as sea-grass beds and coral reefs; artificial lighting on main nesting beaches that disorients both nesting turtles and hatchlings; garbage and plastic bags which could be ingested by mistake by turtles and will provoke a slow and painful death; pollution in the water that is often associated with diseases like the fibropapilloma tumor; irresponsible anchoring that destroys both sea-grass beds and coral reefs; high speed boats and jet-skis that can seriously wound sea turtles and cause their death; incidental fishing in particular in industrial trawlers and purse seines.

Sea turtles play an essential role in keeping the Red Sea healthy and full of life. Green turtles, also known as “sea cows”, maintain healthy seagrass beds which host spawning fish, their juveniles and a great number of other invertebrates like mollusks and crustaceans that are at the bottom of the food chain. Hawksbill turtles feed on corals and sponges and they help keeping a balance between these two populations. This balance has proven to be critical for healthy coral reefs. So sea turtle conservation is not just about turtles, but also about protecting all the habitats they use and that human beings enjoy as well, like the coral reefs. A healthy sea turtle population depends on us and how we use the resources we share with these animals.