Turtles have long been respected by various cultures around the world. For Native Hawaiians, the Green Sea Turtles were considered ancestral deities known as aumakuas. And in Vietnamese culture, turtles are revered. Just last year the nation mourned the death of one particular turtle named Cụ Rùa. So, it’s a particularly cruel twist of fate that these majestic creatures (often seen as symbols of longevity and good luck) are now facing a vulnerable future. Since tomorrow (May 23rd) is World Turtle Day, it’s time for each of us to learn how to protect these fascinating creatures.
Turtle or Tortoise?
Although the terms “turtle” and “tortoise” are often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences. Tortoises live exclusively on land and have “anatomic features distinguishing them from other turtles,” while turtles can also live in fresh and salt water. Today, these cold-blooded reptiles can be found on every continent (except Antarctica) and some can live over 100 years.
Turtles Vary in Size
Turtles and their reptilian ancestors have lived on this planet for far longer than we humans have—over 220 million years. Paleontologists have discovered fossils of ancient turtles and have found their shells to be the size of a Smart car, very similar to the turtles we have today. For instance, the Leatherback Turtle can grow up to seven feet long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Turtles and tortoises come in extra-small sizes as well. One of the smallest tortoises in the world is the Speckled Padloper Tortoise, which only grows to be three or four inches.
Save the Turtles: Turtle Power!
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there are seven different species of sea turtles (including the Leatherback and the Green Sea Turtle) and nearly all of them are classified as Endangered. There’s also a long list of vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered tortoises as well. For instance, there are only 600 wild Madagascar Angulated Tortoises left in the world.
Listed below are three starter tips that can help you do your part to help save these amazing creatures.
- Help keep the local beach clean. When you go to the beach this summer be sure to clean up after yourselves and others. Debris not only makes the beach unattractive it’s also dangerous to the wildlife including turtles. For instance, sea turtles will mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them, which can block their digestive system and lead to death.
- Leave turtle nests alone. One of the reasons sea turtles are now on the endangered list is because of humans. For centuries, humans have harvested turtle eggs for various purposes—from meat to medicine. If you live near a beach you can help protect the turtles simply by leaving the nests alone.
- Donate to a turtle protection organization. There are other ways to help turtles and tortoises even if you don’t live near to a beach. Thousands of people have joined wildlife protection agencies and dedicated their lives to saving these animals. So, consider making a donation to a turtle protection organization such as the Turtle Conservancy (TC). The TC promises that “100% of your donation goes towards field programs, in-range conservation, and animal management.”