Column: Exploring endangered species-sea turtles are on the brink of extinction

Editor’s column: Exploring endangered species

Mia Delmonico is the REV Editor-In-Chief

By MIA DELMONICO

The Endangered Species Act, also known as the ESA, was passed in 1973 to provide programs for the conservation of endangered and threatened species. In addition to the protection of such species, the ESA was created to conserve the habitats in which these plants and animals live. Prior to the ESA, certain actions were taken to begin showing consideration toward species that were dwindling in numbers. For example, the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 was intended to list native animal species as endangered provide limited means of protection to them. This act also allowed the pursuit and gain of land to use as a habitat for a species on this list. In 1969 this same act was altered in attempt of stopping extinction worldwide and therefore prohibited importation and sale of these species in the United States. The ESA was able to take form and tend to the still lacking components of the altered Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1969. US Senator, Harrison A. Williams, introduced the ESA to the Senate on June 12, 1973. The act was unanimously approved and still in action to this day. Today the ESA is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The main purpose of the ESA is to conserve endangered species. In all aspects, an endangered species is any plant or animal that is at serious risk of extinction. In order to be classified as endangered, a species must meet a series of qualifications prior to being added to the list of endangered wildlife. These qualifications include destruction and or modification to their habitat, overuse of their habitat for recreation, educational or other reasons, predation or disease, lack of necessary resources in their habitat, and other man made or natural factors affecting their survival. These requirements are detailed in the description of the ESA. 

One particular endangered species is the sea turtle. Six out of the seven different types of sea turtles are endangered and their risk is mainly contributed to by humans. One specific type of sea turtle is known as the Hawksbill Sea Turtle. They are classified in the kingdom animalia and are included in the phylum chordata. Their class is reptilia and their order is testudines which refers to their special bony shell. They are in the cheloniidae family and the genus of Eretmochelys. The Hawksbill Sea Turtle’s species  is classified as E. imbricata. In order for this sea turtle to survive in its niche is has developed some adaptations over time. One example apart from their universal flippers that allow for smooth movement and their hard shells that protect them from their harsh environment and predators, is their distinguishable beak in which the higher jaw overhangs the lower. This allows them to access crevices and small openings or holes to capture their prey. Sponges are the most dominant food source for Hawksbill Sea Turtles. They also splurge on mollusks, algae, sea urchins, very small fish, and jellyfish when available. In contrast,these sea turtles are themselves feasted upon by predators including very large fish, sharks, crocodiles, humans, and octopuses. 

This species is endangered for a variety of reasons. One of which is specifically because they were hunted for their shells. For several years, their shells were converted into extravagant jewelry and other small items. Today, the trade of turtle products in the international market is prohibited due to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, also known as CITES. In addition, NOAA Fisheries is partnered to conserve and recover turtle populations around the globe. They are determined to establish regulations and make recovery plans to foster the conservation and recovery of Hawksbill Sea Turtle’s habitats. Their efforts include protecting turtles as they are nesting on beaches and reducing bycatch in recreational and commercial fisheries. Lastly, they are trying to reduce the amount of trash on our beaches and in the ocean itself. Hawksbill Sea Turtles are still critically endangered and unfortunately their populations have not bounced back even with the efforts of organizations such as these. 

I believe that the Endangered Species Act has not succeeded or failed thus far. In my opinion, the act is extremely important and has accomplished what it was created to. The act is meant to protect endangered species and to prevent them from going extinct. However, I do not believe that the act provides any resource or basis for recovering these populations or redeveloping them to a higher population as they once had before. Despite this, I still feel that the act is worthwhile and that it should remain in action because it does prevent most endangered species from going extinct at such a rapid rate as compared to the rate they would go extinct without the regulations the act enforces. I foresee that a great majority of the now endangered species will eventually go extinct if nothing changes. If people become more educated on the amount of endangered species around them and the importance they play in our daily lives and in the sustainability of earth as a whole, there could be hope for endangered species in the future. 

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