Let’s get to SHELLebrating! May 23rd is annual World Turtle Day, celebrating both sea and land turtles. World Turtle Day began 22 years ago in the year 2000 by the American Tortoise Rescue. In the year 1990, Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson established a non-profit organization to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises. According to World Turtle Day, American Tortoise Rescue has placed about 4,000 tortoises and turtles in caring homes. The non-profit also assists law enforcement when undersized or endangered turtles are confiscated and also provides information to those with sick, neglected, or abandoned turtles (WorldTurtleDay.org).
Land turtles are affected deeply by habitat loss by urban and suburban development and climate change patterns. About 50 percent of freshwater turtles’ species are threatened worldwide, more than any other animal group (fs.usda.gov).
On the marine end of things, all six sea turtle species are found in U.S waters, and all are protected and listed under the Endangered Species Act. Sea turtles are greatly impacted around the world by common threats such as entanglement, climate change, and bycatch in commercial and recreational fisheries.
So why should we care? Many turtles are important to the food web. For example, U.S Forest Service explains that sea turtles graze on the seagrass, keeping the grass short and healthy. Healthy seagrass is an important breeding ground for many species of crustaceans, fish, and shellfish, which benefits us as direct consumers of those species. The same is said about the contribution land turtles have to the environment.
Some tips and tricks listed by World Turtle Day in which you should do your part to conserve and protect turtles are:
1.) Never buy a turtle or tortoise from a pet shop, as this will increase the demand from the wild.
2.) Never remove turtles or tortoises from the wild unless they are sick or injured.
3.) Emergency Care: if a tortoise is crossing a busy street, pick it up and send it in the same direction they were going.
4.) Report the sale of any turtle or tortoise that is less than four inches. This is illegal!
5.) Report the cruelty or illegal sales of turtles and tortoises to your local animal control shelter.
6.) Write to legislators asking them to keep sensitive habitats preserved or closed to off-road vehicles, and to prevent offshore drilling that can lead to more endangered sea turtle deaths.
While today may be a day of celebrating our turtles, the biggest impact that you can have is doing your part to aid in their protection.
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