Marine turtles and the threats they face

Marine turtles face many challenges during their lives. For every 1,000 eggs laid, it is likely only one turtle will survive to adulthood.

What are the main threats to marine turtles?


Six of the seven species of marine turtle are either critically endangered or endangered (IUCN Red List 2010). The status of the flatback turtle remains unknown due to insufficient information. So while they may have outlived the dinosaurs, the future for marine turtles appears bleak unless we take immediate action.

Marine turtles face a wide range of potentially devastating threats in the tropical waters of Australia. These include incidental capture in fishing gear, boat strike, ingestion of, and entanglement in, marine debris, feral predation, illegal hunting, unsustainable traditional hunting, and coastal development that impacts on nesting beaches and hatching success.1

These threats directly reduce the ability of turtle populations to adapt to and recover from the impacts of climate change.2

Habitat loss and degradation

Coastal development has led to the destruction and degradation of critically important turtle nesting beaches and is affecting other critical habitats such as seagrass beds. Lights from roads and traffic, altered currents and beach erosion from sea walls and jetties, sediment run-off from land and tourism are all causes of marine turtle habitat loss and degradation.

Illegal take and feral animals

Unsustainable hunting of adult turtles, collecting of eggs for food and the predation of eggs by feral animals are other major factors in the drastic decline in marine turtle populations around the world.3


Other threats to marine turtles


Additional threats to turtles, some of them preventable, include:

• incidental capture in fishing gear

• increases in global temperatures, which disrupt the turtles’ temperature-dependent sex determination and could lead to population instability

• choking on pollution/rubbish that they mistake for food

• becoming entangled in discarded fishing gear, which can render a turtle unable to feed or swim

• disease, some of which may be caused by run-off or marine pollution.


1. www.gbrmpa.gov.au/corp_site/info_services/sciece_management/biodiversity_pages_2/template_page125n
2. Hughes, T.P., M.J. Rodrigues, D.R. Bellwood, D.C. Ceccarelli, O. Hoegh-Guldberg, L.McCook, N. Moltschaniwskyj, M.S. Pratchett, R.S. Steneck and B. Willis. (2007) Current Biology 17: 360-365
3. http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/marine_turtles/

Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) caught in a net. / ©: Michael Gunther / WWF-Canon
Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) caught in a net.
© Michael Gunther / WWF-Canon