Watching a sea turtle nest on a dark beach or swim gracefully through a coral reef is a highlight for any traveller. Unfortunately six of the seven species of sea turtles worldwide are threatened or endangered, due to things like people eating their eggs and meat, making products from their shells, and unsustainable coastal development. Travellers can help these charismatic animals out when they travel by carefully choosing where and how to see them, managing plastic waste, and knowing what souvenirs to avoid.
One easy way any traveller can help sea turtles is by reducing the use of disposable plastic products. Sea turtles often confuse plastic for their favorite food, jellyfish. Bring along a reusable water bottle and/or filter, skip the straw, use reusable bags, and help clean it up when you see it.
In The Water
When you come across a sea turtle underwater, the goal should be to avoid stressing them. That means not touching them (ever), getting in their way (that includes camera sticks), and keeping your distance (we recommend 3-5 metres).
On the Beach
When a turtle comes up onto a beach to nest at night, they are very vulnerable. So just like underwater, it’s best to keep your distance, especially while they are coming out of the water. Bright lights can bother them, so never take a flash photo of a sea turtle nesting (or a hatchling). Give them space to lay their eggs and only permitted researchers should touch sea turtles, their eggs, or their hatchlings. And pick up any plastic waste.
Some nesting beaches have hatcheries, where eggs are protected until they hatch, to keep poachers and predators away and make sure the hatchlings arrive safely to the water. But some hatcheries are made more for tourists than turtles, so be sure to avoid ones that keep turtle hatchlings in tanks, that keep them for more than a day, or that allow people to handle them.
Tortoiseshell comes from the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle and is the biggest reason they are endangered. These products can be found for sale in many places around the world, especially in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia (primarily China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Papua New Guinea). Be sure to avoid buying these products and let the sellers know why. Check out the handy guide below to learn how to recognize these products.