Sea Turtles Need Our Help. Here's An Easy Way Anyone Can Get Involved

Photo: Emmanuel Hidalgo

Sea turtles have inhabited our Earth for over 100 million years, serving an important role in our marine ecosystems. Within the last 200 years, however, the species population has declined rapidly.

To understand what this means for us, imagine driving your car without a muffler to clean the toxic fumes before they're emitted into the atmosphere. After a while, your car would stop functioning, and its environmental impact would be far greater. Well, in this analogy, sea turtles are the mufflers. Besides being adorable, these critters play an important role in our ocean ecosystems by providing habitat for others, helping balance the food chain, and facilitating nutrient cycling.

While natural predators and disease play a role in this shift, according to the World Wildlife Foundation, some of the biggest threats to turtles are hunting and poaching, pollution, and climate change. Looks like humans are behind the suffering of yet another keystone species. But, before we start assigning blame, pointing fingers, and selling off our cars for the latest hybrid (although that’s not a bad idea), there are definitely ways to help out this beloved species—and many other sea critters—in our daily routines.

On a recent visit to Turtle Island in Fiji, I saw some incredible ways to do just that. Turtles are strongly linked to local culture in Fiji, and the island has emerged as a nesting ground for many different species of the sacred animal. It also seeks to educate visitors from around the world on conservation issues with a luxe eco-hotel on-site.

Here are a few of the island's initiatives that inspired me to take action and create positive change:

Turtle conservation in Fiji.

Sadly, because of their beauty and appealing taste, many sea turtles are hunted in Fiji. That's why Turtle Island has started paying farmers market value for their live catch. Then, they'll tag these turtles before rereleasing them in the wild so they can be monitored. Experts in wildlife conservation shared the details of this program with visitors, providing personal tours of the island and its initiatives. Their "Turtle Talks" web series also invited movers and shakers on the island to drive the conversation about how people can work together to inspire positive change.

Turtle Island and its resort work to be eco-friendly outside of the water too. Thanks to a new plastic-free rule, no plastic bags are allowed on the pristine landscape, and reusable water bottles and bamboo straws were available for refill throughout our stay. The less plastic we use on land, the less ends up in our oceans. The island also has a newly installed solar farm, its own lush organic garden, and tree restoration programs dotted throughout.

What can this small island teach the rest of the world?

Here are a few ways you can carry these impressive initiatives into your own life:

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1. Use as little plastic as possible.

Minimize your use of plastic bags, opt for refillable water bottles instead of bottled waters, choose "whole foods" over more processed or packaged foods (for both environmental and personal health reasons), and say no to straws in your beverages.

2. Rethink your travel plans.

When vacationing, plan to stay at destinations or resorts that are eco-friendly and encourage preservation of their environment whenever possible. To start, take note of resorts that implement solar power, encourage less waste, and recycle.

The less plastic we use on land, the less ends up in our oceans.

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3. Shop local.

Buy local, in-season produce to reduce the carbon footprint from overseas imports and exports. It really doesn’t get any fresher than your local market, and buying in-season can ensure we’re getting something closer to home—and tastier too!

4. Harvest a community.

Organize a swap among friends to share goods and products instead of buying new ones. We create so much waste if we're constantly buying items we "think" we need. I loved the fact that Turtle Island felt more like a family, one where everyone shared and cared for one another instead of harboring a more individualistic approach. So, next time, before you need to buy that plastic wrapped DVD or Teflon kitchen tool, see if you can borrow it from a neighbor (and make a friend in the process).

5. Share the message.

Share this article and message with someone else! The more people know, the greater the effect we can all have to work together and make a larger impact over time.

No matter how large or small your efforts, know they add up to create a positive impact on the world around us. Each plastic bag, bottle, or container spared counts. Every action you take to help our environment rather than fuel destructive consumerism sends a powerful message.

Curious about what else you can you do to help promote biodiversity—other than giving money? Check out these expert-approved action steps.

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