Development Hawksbay Beach, Pakistan
This is the fourth issue of a new online series on the biggest threats to sea turtles by State of the World's Sea Turtles (SWOT). This issue has been written by Blair Witherington (Inwater Research Group).
Imagine the global changes sea turtles have endured over 100 million years. Now envision images of our planet from space throughout that record. A fast-forward through those images would reveal flickers of astounding turmoil—continents colliding and others torn in two, drifting apart as their margins pulse with sea-level changes that lap at the land like waves on a beach. Beach waves are more than a metaphor for coastal change. At each stop-frame in that movie of land-sea interplay, those margins had sand... sand that has fostered two million generations of sea turtles.
Witnessing what sea turtles have survived, we’d be forgiven for concluding that sea turtles have capacity to persist through any global transition. Some changes have unique, detrimental effects from which recovery is uncertain. In our imaginary Earth time-lapse, few of us would be quick enough to hit the pause button at the very end, and catch a critical change to Earth’s sandy margins. It’s distinct, it’s profound, and it’s us—the widespread modification of coastal environments to accommodate our development.
This message is fourth in a series of SWOT-sponsored guest editorials about major threats to sea turtles. In this installment—Coastal Development, which encompasses many threats to sea turtle populations. Foremost is habitat loss—sand mining, dredging of ship channels, and the construction of ports, roads, and buildings near nesting beaches. This construction has some of its most severe consequences stemming from our need to maintain it. Channels require jetties that block sand flow, starving downdrift beaches, and any structure built near a beach may require invasive defense from erosion. This defense includes installing walls and revetments that occupy sea turtle nesting areas and that contribute to sand loss. A bitter irony of our insistence on coastal permanence is that intensely defended beaches will eventually erode away, rather than migrate landward as beaches always have with rising sea levels.
Developed beaches are likely to have numerous barriers to sea turtle nesting, from walls and rocks to beach furniture and recreational equipment. These barriers cause nest mortality by restricting nesting to the lower beach where eggs are more likely to be washed away by erosion events. But the most widespread alteration of beaches from development is light pollution, which discourages turtles from nesting, and that misdirects and kills hatchlings emerging from nests at night.
Beach tourism is generally considered detrimental to sea turtle nesting because of its correlation with dense development, high resource use, and profound habitat alteration, especially light pollution. Yet, our visit to a beach need not be wholly detrimental to sea turtles. Across the world, nature-based tourism programs address the challenge of inspiring human behavior change by presenting nesting sea turtles as conservation ambassadors. In these meetings at sandy beaches, there is hope that we can learn to live sustainably with sea turtles, and perhaps, gain wisdom on how to adapt to such a dynamic coastal resource.
To learn more about coastal development and sea turtles, please peruse these informative articles from SWOT Reports past.
SWOT Articles on Coastal Development
Stay tuned for more in this series based on “The 5 Biggest Threats to Sea Turtles” 2006. Their Greatest Challenge in 100 Million Years: Facing the Hazards of Humankind. SWOT Report—State of the World’s Turtles, 1, 5.
Last updated on 02 September 2020