As an ocean campaigner I’m often asked what my favourite ocean creature is. I generally don’t play favourites, cause there are so many fantabulous marine beings to choose from, but since I was little, I’ve always had a soft spot for sea turtles. A sea turtle organization received my first ever donation after learning about their plight in a book. On this World Turtle Day, I’d like to remind us all that these magnificent reptiles need our help and this help comes in many forms.

This blog will focus on sea turtles but there are in fact three groups of species that are often referred to as a turtle: the tortoise, the turtle and the terrapin. Seven species of sea turtle roam our oceans. The biggest sea turtle is the leatherback while the smallest is the Kemp’s Ridley. All female sea turtles return to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs, carrying on family lines dating back for many, many years. Sea turtles eat various other creatures like sponges, jellyfish and shellfish, but the Green turtle prefers a vegetarian diet in its adult life. Travelling often thousands of kms around our global oceans between feeding and nesting sites, sea turtles come into contact with all of the good and bad the oceans have to offer these days.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad. The numerous destructive practices going on out there has lead to six of the sea turtles species earning endangered status. From development on their nesting beaches, to poaching of their eggs, to fatal interactions with fishing gear and marine debris, in roughly the last half century the human race has somehow pushed a species that has been around for millions of years, to the brink of extinction.

My first introduction to sea turtles in the wild was both the most magical and most depressing one I think anyone could imagine. I was volunteering at a sea turtle conservation centre in Guatemala and volunteers were charged with patrolling the beaches at night to deter sea turtle egg poachers while the females laid their eggs. In 24 hours I saw poachers hiding in the bushes waiting to strike, smelled the carcass of a massive sea turtle that had washed up on shore after being drowned in a trawler, and witnessed baby sea turtles hatching and being escorted to the ocean to begin what we hoped would be a long life travelling our oceans. It was a crash course in the harsh reality of what our sea turtles are faced with on a daily basis right before my eyes and it played an important role in me becoming an oceans campaigner as I am today.

As a Greenpeace oceans campaigner we usually examine the major threats to our oceans and through that we identify the major impacted species. In our current campaign to transform the global tuna industry and tuna market here in Canada, sure enough in examining the destructive fishing practices employed by most of the world’s tuna fleet, sea turtles were among those impacted. Longlines and purse seiners using fish aggregating devices (FADs) are two fishing methods that are known to have negative, often fatal, interactions with sea turtles. Greenpeace is urging 14 well-known canned tuna brands in Canada to switch to fishing methods that reduce the overall impact on turtles and other marine life. Learn more about our tuna campaign here.

So what can you do to help protect the sea turtles and make next World Turtle Day a happier one for our turtle friends?

  1. Choose your tuna and other seafood wisely. If it doesn’t say that it was caught by a more sustainable fishing methods, then avoid it. Urge your favourite brands to change their turtle-hurting ways and support companies taking turtle-friendly action.
  2. Reduce your plastic consumption. Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags and other floating debris for jellyfish and other food. A huge proportion of the plastic you use in your daily life will eventually end up in our oceans. Do you need that plastic bag? Do you need that water bottle? Avoid beer with the plastic rings. (I know I know, but try)
  3. Think about where you vacation. If you’re staying at a resort on a turtle nesting beach that may be fun for you but it isn’t fun for the turtles. Use your voice and demand change.
  4. Volunteer your time. There are numerous great organizations around the world that are working to save our sea turtles. If you’re travelling to a destination where sea turtles are present, chances are one of those organizations is too. Every bit of help could lead to one more turtle surviving another year.
  5. Add your voice to the call for marine reserves. Greenpeace is working on all of those and actively campaigning for a global network of large-scale marine reserves – areas that are closed to all extractive uses, such as fishing and mining – covering 40% of the world's oceans, which are urgently needed to protect marine species and their habitats and that could be key to reversing global fisheries decline. Such a network would include smaller coastal reserves that could protect turtle rookeries and larger reserves offshore in ocean areas where marine turtles are at greatest risk.