Do you love sea turtles? Maybe you can remember your first sea turtle encounter? Destinations with this charismatic ocean fauna attract dive and snorkel travelers and beach-goers who can’t wait to catch a glimpse of these prehistoric creatures.
Turtles have been calculated for their economic input as marine tourist attractions. In “Sea the Value”, a study conducted in conjunction with North Carolina’s, Duke University, the group Oceana determined that on average, divers were willing to pay an additional $29.83 per dive to have the opportunity to view sea turtles in the wild.
Sea Turtles are Invaluable to Two Ecosystems
On the science front, Turtles are innately valuable for the role they play in the health of two ecosystems: the beach/dune system and the marine sea grass system. If sea turtles went extinct, both the sea grass beds (the breeding and developmental grounds for many species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans that we harvest) and beach/dune ecosystems (that we need to protect land values) would be gravely impacted.
Putting a True Value on Turtles
In an article for Huffington Post, sea turtle researcher Dr. Wallace J. Nichols explains that the traditional metrics used by scientists and economists to put a price tag on nature “provide a clean, clear, yet wildly incomplete, even cartoon-like framework” for valuating marine life. Nichols says of the traditional If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it approach: “It’s B.S.” according to Nichols, a truer valuation of sea turtles – and marine life in general – goes beyond economic drivers and ecological inputs.
We can’t truly put a value on sea turtles if we go the traditional route that values protection based on consumption, and discounts the intangible benefits of turtles ‘just being turtles’ and how turtles make us feel. Seeing a turtle close up creates an indelible memory full of awe and wonder. “We simply can’t discount the value of the excitement, joy, connection and awareness brought about by a turtle encounter that can lead to valuable and lasting connections to nature. In his New York Times best-selling book “Blue Mind”, Dr. Nichols expands on this conversation of valuing nature to include the cognitive, emotional, psychological, and social benefits that we know are real drivers of the human-nature relationship. Blue Mind explores the new research that suggests that the feeling of awe and wonder is good for our health, boosts empathy and compassion, and helps connect us to the people and places around us. This helps us to change the conversation around what we “value” to include nature for nature’s sake.
What a concept. The True Value of Turtles. Encountering sea turtles can create a deeper connection to and place a higher value on nature. Turtles slow us down, allow us to be present, and encourage us to value the experience. Turtle-induced feelings of awe produce some of the most cherished and transformative experiences for divers, snorkelers, kids and ocean lovers everywhere. According to Nichols, being near, in, on, or under water can be a refuge or escape; it incites our curiosity and creativity; and these experiences fill us with awe and wonder. This relationship around nature has positive benefits beyond tourism, marine life harvesting and real estate investments. Says Nichols, “Being with Sea Turtles changes us. We become better versions of ourselves.”
What You Can Do To show your Appreciation for Turtles
Here are some important tips:
1. Keep beaches clean. Clean up trash on the beach–even if it’s not mine. Properly discard garbage and food scraps to avoid attracting predators like raccoons and foxes that can prey on turtle eggs and hatchlings.
2. Clear the way. Remove recreational equipment like lounge chairs and toys from the beach at night. These obstacles can deter nesting females, and make it harder for hatchlings to get to the water.
3. Be on the lookout. Be aware of sea turtle nesting areas on the beach, and avoid them. Sea turtles are cute and tempting to touch, but I will keep my distance. I will also not use flashlights around nesting sea turtles.
4. Dim the lights. At night, turn out lights visible from the beach. Sea turtle hatchlings use the moon’s reflection on the waves to find their way to the water at night. Artificial lighting confuses them, causing them to head inland rather than to the sea.
5. Don’t buy Turtle Products. I know that in some places sea turtles are valued for their food and in jewelry. I vote with my dollars by not supporting these industries, by not trying turtle meat or buying turtle shell souvenirs.
6. Research my seafood. Think twice before eating fish and seafood that is not caught with turtle-friendly gear. Sea turtles caught in commercial fishing gear cannot surface for air and often drown.
7. Boat carefully. Many sea turtles are struck and killed by boats. When boating in sea turtle territory, I will wear polarized sunglasses and keep an eye out for basking sea turtles.
8. Get rid of plastic. Avoid plastic bags and Styrofoam. Plastics that get into our waterways can eventually make it to sea, where sea turtles can mistake them for food. If this trash blocks their digestive tract, they will die.
9. Balloons blow. Don’t let them go. Don’t release balloons outdoors, they often end up in the ocean, especially when released near the coast. Sea turtles mistake the balloons for jellyfish (a traditional food source) and when they eat the balloons they die.
10. Do my part year-round. Even when I’m not at the beach, I know my actions can impact the wildlife there. Toxic cleaning products can enter waterways and end up in the ocean. I will make careful, informed choices about the products I buy for my home and yard. Dive In (and support the fine work of its Author) Blue Ocean ReSources: Learn more about Wallace J. Nichols at Blue Mind. Join the Leap into your Blue Mind Book Club. Participate in Blue Mind Six.Read: “The True Value of Sea Turtles” at Huffington Post.Book: “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do”, by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, Oceana.org/Duke University Study: “Sea the Value: Quantifying the value of marine life to divers.” Photo: VisitMexico.com Riviera Maya Tourism Board