Started in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue, World Turtle Day is observed on May 23rd and aims to increase the public’s knowledge about turtles and tortoises and the vital role they play in our ecosystem.
At the WILD Center, here in Wisconsin, while I worked there as Wild Ones Executive Director, we observed the Painted, Snapping and Blandings* Turtles. Too often, unfortunately, I have seen people deliberately swerving their cars in front of the WILD Center to run over turtles crossing the road to get to their egg-laying habitat. While other more friendly humans, fortunately, have deliberately stopped and helped the turtles across the road to safety in the WILD Center prairie or even down to the marshy area along the Little Lake Butte des Morts lake edge.
“Turtles are important as scavengers, herbivores, carnivores and often contribute significant biomass to the ecosystem. They break down the energy of plant materials and convert them into protein.” Their eggs not only make new turtles, but they also provide food for many predators — land and water. (Turtle Conservation Society)
*The Blandings Turtle is listed as a Species of Special Concern in Wisconsin.
While researching marine turtles, I was surprised to learn the decaying unhatched eggs of the tens of thousands deposited by nesting marine turtles help to nourish the beach ecosystem. Without this nourishment helping to maintain the vegetation, more erosion would surely occur along the beaches.
Another interesting fact about marine turtles is they act like the lawn mower of the ocean floor. If they didn’t keep the seagrasses eaten short, these plants would not survive for other aquatic critters to use for food, breeding and shelter.
They also function as the vacuum cleaner for ocean coral. The Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea located off the coast of Queensland, Australia, for example, would not stay as healthy as it is without the sea turtles scooping up the excess algae which tends to rob the coral of sunlight. This, however, does not overcome the damage to the coral from climate change and pollution. (Natural Geographic)
Although there is good support on public lands, turtle habitat and turtle hatchlings should be protected everywhere on land and in the water. Sounds like a good opportunity for citizen science efforts — monitoring turtle nests and hatchlings.
See also 13 Awesome Photos of Turtles by EPA.