All animals are part of the ecosystem and sea turtles are no different. These are important sea creatures playing their respective role in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. At the rate these sea turtles are declining in numbers, other marine life will also be in danger.
The role of sea turtles in ocean ecosystem
Sea turtles help in maintaining habitat. Green sea turtles for instance help in keeping healthy seagrass beds properly mowed because they are herbivores. It’s important to keep these seagrass bed properly ‘trimmed’ so that the whole nutrient cycle under the ocean is kept in balance.
Without the green sea turtles to graze on seagrass beds, it will overgrow and will result to obstruction to currents and light which will then create a suitable habitat for microorganisms, algae, invertebrates and fungi. It’s all about chain reaction; these fellas really do play an important role in keeping the balance in check.
Sea turtles also helps to make sure the coral reefs will flourish. The hawkbill sea turtle, with its beak-like mouths feed on marine sponges. Why is it important? Well, marine sponges can aggressively dominate the reef communities which is not exactly a good idea since it will not only compete with space against corals but its physical and chemical defenses also prevents other fish and marine animals from eating them.
So again, there will be a whole chain reaction where other animals will be left with either no or fewer food. When hawkbill sea turtles feed on these sponges it allows for other animals as well to feed on it which these animals will normally not be able to do (because they can’t break into its exterior) and more importantly, allows for diversity of reef communities.
Beach dunes or dunes ecosystem also benefits from turtles eggs. Because sea turtles lay eggs on the beaches, whether these eggs hatched or not, it provides nutrients that in turn affect the vegetation, species distribution and shorelines stability.
Sea turtles are also responsible for keeping the food web in check in the ocean ecosystem. For instance, the leatherbacks, loggerheads and green sea turtles, feed on jelly fish! Imagine if these jelly fish dominates the sea more than fish! These sea turtles also provide food for fish and shrimp, by carrying around barnacles, algae and other similar organisms. The eggs they lay on beaches will not hatch 100 percent; some will serve as food for other predators like ants, crabs, raccoons, and others. The same goes with the hatchlings, there are studies that show 97 percent of these hatchlings will be eaten within the first hour upon entering the water. It may sound a little gruesome, but it’s the rule of nature, they are part of the food chain, and majority of these hatchlings will serve as food for other animals.
What’s happening to the sea turtles?
The sea turtles’ population is greatly affected by fishing- either by direct death or by injury brought about by commercial fishing. The continuous habitat degradation also plays a big role and of course the effect of climate changes.
It’s bad enough that sea turtles needed to face natural phenomenon and the natural sequence of food chain, what’s really disturbing is the incessant poaching and illegal trade of sea turtles – eggs, meat, shells – which pose a great threat to this species. The carefree attitude of most people – in disposing trash, disturbing the animals without regard – also plays a big role in the continued decline in sea turtle numbers.
These sea turtles need us to care more for them – so that they will thrive – but keep in mind that we need them too, so that nature will be in balance. Creating awareness is one way to save these sea creatures. Educating as much people as we can will make a big difference. We can do better. We can make it happen.