By Deborah Simon
When I was asked if I wanted to join a training workshop on marine turtle conservation in Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh, I eagerly agreed. The next day we left behind the fog and chaos of Hanoi for Central Vietnam where we went to train volunteers, government staff, and the border military on marine turtle conservation. This was how I got to learn about the predicament of Vietnam’s marine turtles.
Historically, turtles have held deep symbolic meaning for the Vietnamese people. In pagodas, you can find sculptures of turtles with a crane on their back symbolizing the movable and immovable aspects of life. Perhaps the most famous turtles in Vietnam are the 82 stone turtles in the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam’s first university established in 1070. As turtles live up to 100 years and have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, it is easy to understand why they are strongly linked to longevity, knowledge, and spirituality. But it is people’s beliefs about these animals that have led to their perilous decline.
Turtles help maintain the natural balance in the world’s oceans. Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) nibble the tips of sea grasses so that they grow faster. The new shoots provide habitat for juvenile crustaceans and fish and serve as nurseries for commercial fisheries. Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) eat jellyfish and when the turtles disappear, jellyfish populations explode, invade beaches, and sting people, sometimes with fatal results. Jellyfish feed mostly on fish larvae and so fewer turtles results in higher predation of fish during the most vulnerable stage of their life cycle. Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate) mostly eat sponges. This helps to maintain the health and biodiversity of coral reefs because sponges can otherwise overgrow corals and suffocate reefs. Marine turtles are therefore important indicators of the health of marine ecosystems.
Marine turtles face enormous challenges during their long and complex life cycles. Out of every 1,000 eggs laid it is estimated that as few as one hatchling will survive to adulthood. Furthermore, marine turtles only become sexually mature between the ages of 15-50 years. As if these hurdles were not enough, if a female is disturbed as she nests, this may make her reluctant to nest again. More....