Six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles live in the Coral Triangle, including the green, hawksbill, olive ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and flatback turtle. They are a fundamental link in the Coral Triangle's fragile ecosystems. For example, turtles help maintain the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs which are home to commercially-valuable species such as shrimp, lobster, and countless other species.
Marine turtles can undertake migrations of up to 20,000 km, but unfailingly come back to the exact same beach where they were born decades ago.
In 2009, WWF tagged Ana, a female green turtle, as part of a turtle tracking project by the organization and Udayana University in Bali, Indonesia. She slowly made her way from a nesting beach in East Java, across the Indian Ocean, headed to the Kimberley of Western Australia. Her journey, monitored online by WWF, demonstrates the strong biological ties between Indonesia and the reefs on the west Australian coast.
This trip in the “backyard” waters of the Coral Triangle pales in significance compared to the journeys undertaken by the leatherback and loggerhead turtles, which travel across the entire Pacific Ocean between feeding and nesting grounds—a journey that is more than one-third of the way around the world!
Out in the open ocean, a dangerous world
Migrations are an essential part of being a marine turtle, but it also puts them in harm’s way. When a marine turtle swims across an expanse of ocean, it can be scooped up by fishing trawlers, longlines or gill nets. Thousands get killed this way every year.
That is just one of the many threats turtles have to put up with (others include habitat destruction and alteration, pollution, and the impacts of climate change). In Indonesia alone, it is estimated that as many as 7,700 turtles are killed every year by accidental catch in shrimp trawls and tuna longlines.
What it will take to save turtles?
This is why we need to protect all destinations visited by turtles during their life cycle—places such as beaches, seagrass meadows, coral reefs, open ocean, and migratory pathways that cover several countries.
Unless we achieve this, it is highly unlikely that they will grace our oceans in the next century.