Imagine a healthy, beautiful ocean. Now remove the sea turtles, one by one.
Not so healthy anymore, is it?
That’s the gist of the report we released today, Why Healthy Oceans Need Sea Turtles: The Importance of Sea Turtles to Marine Ecosystems. The report describes the vital roles sea turtles play in the ecosystem, and how the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is further threatening their ability to fulfill those roles.
As the report outlines, sea turtles provide the following important ecosystem services:
- Maintain healthy seagrass beds through grazing
- Maintain healthy coral reefs by removing sponges when foraging
- Facilitate nutrient cycling by supplying a concentrated source of high-protein nutrients when nesting
- Balance marine food webs by maintaining jellyfish populations
- Provide a food source for fish by carrying around barnacles, algae and other similar organisms
- Increase the rate of nutrient recycling on the ocean floor by breaking up shells while foraging
- Provide habitat for small marine organisms as well as offer an oasis for fish and seabirds in the open ocean
But in order to fulfill this role, the sea turtle has to be, well, alive.
As of yesterday, 709 sea turtles have been found dead or injured since the oil spill began on April 20th. The number is significantly higher than normal, and the actual number of sea turtles affected may be higher, since some dead and injured sea turtles will never be found.