The different types of endangered turtles can be divided into two main groups. Marine, or sea, turtles face serious threats in our oceans and on land due to nesting site destruction and commercial fishing. Freshwater turtles, particularly in Asia, are also in danger of becoming extinct due to habitat loss and illegal trade. Several agencies and organizations around the world are working toward improving these species' chances of survival.
Six of the seven marine turtle species are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These species are loggerhead turtles, green turtles, Kemp's ridley turtles, leatherback turtles, hawksbill turtles and olive ridley turtles. Although these endangered turtles live in the ocean, they mate and lay their eggs on land. The sites that they often use for this purpose have been subject to habitat destruction, making it more difficult for the turtles to find suitable alternatives where their eggs can safely hatch. Other causes of population decline among marine turtles include being struck by boats, being caught by commercial fisheries and becoming trapped in debris.
Since these marine turtle species inhabit US waters, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are actively involved in conserving these species. NMFS handles conservation efforts aimed at reducing the number of turtles hit by watercraft and caught by fisheries. FWS provides protection and recovery efforts for the nesting sites of these endangered turtles. ESA gives these species further legal protection.
Freshwater turtle species throughout the world have been affected by habitat destruction and other causes of population decline. This problem is a major concern for the continued existence of freshwater turtles in Asia. All of the species occurring in this region are considered threatened or endangered. These include species such as the black pond turtle, four-eyed turtle, Malaysian giant turtle, yellow-margined box turtle and the pitted-shell turtle.
The main threats to these endangered turtles are illegal wildlife trade, habitat degradation and hunting. Freshwater turtles are often captured and sold in markets for meat, medicine and the pet trade, although there are laws that prohibit these activities. Hunters in southern parts of Asia also catch them to feed their local populations. Many areas that freshwater turtles inhabit have been destroyed by wildfires or turned into farmland.
Organizations such as World Wildlife Fund, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Turtle Survival Alliance are making efforts to ensure that the laws protecting freshwater turtles from illegal trade are more strictly enforced. Other conservation measures include finding or creating safe habitats. These organizations also serve to make more people aware of the threats to these species.