Traveling the seas by day and night are the ancient sea creatures known as onu, or sea turtles. The deep blue waters contain a variety of turtles from leatherbacks to loggerheads and several more. Sea turtles are reptiles that are remarkably suited to life in the sea. They are critical to the biodiversity of the ocean and are major contributors to healthy ecosystems. Among the many benefits that they provide, sea turtles help the coral ecosystem remain productive and healthy as well as playing an important role in maintaining the balance of the food web. With all the environmental issues that the world faces today, it is no wonder that people consider the impacts of pollution protection on these beautiful creatures and how vulnerable is the health of our ocean.
Humans have been successfully using the ocean as a source of food for their livelihoods. Whether it is for commercial use or to fill their families’ pukus, this constant attraction to the ocean has led to an increase of sea turtles becoming entangled in fishing nets or confusing plastic for their own food. Plastic bags pose one of the biggest threats to turtles, as they can confuse plastic bags for food such as jellyfish. Once eaten by the turtle, the plastic can either suffocate or block up the turtle's intestines. Either way, the result is a horrible death. How many turtles die this way is unknown, but you can be sure that for every one that washes up on a beach, there are many more that die at sea and get eaten by sharks or sink to the bottom.
Green Turtles are now commonly found cruising in and out of some of the passages along Rarotonga’s coastline. Their presence on our shores is of great significance, particularly because Green Turtles are listed as ‘Endangered’ in the IUCN Red List. This listing means that there has been a suspected reduction of at least 50% of the population over the last 10 years. Even more significant is the presence of the rare Hawksbill turtles which have been found in Rarotonga’s passages and are listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ in the IUCN Red List. These too are susceptible to the threats of plastic pollution.
Plastic bags are not the only offender. All types of plastics pose serious threats, including plastic straws and single use plastic wrappers which are all commonly mistaken for food. Abandoned fishing nets also pose a major threat as they cause turtles to drown. Helping to protect our turtles can be as simple as being mindful of our rubbish as well as being a conscious consumer.
Being a conscious consumer involves thinking about what you are buying and the afterlife of that product. Can it be reused or repurposed? Or will it end up in the bin after one use? Consider moving away from buying single use plastic products. If what you need to purchase comes in the form of plastic, consider an alternative or try and find the same product but in bulk size to reduce the overall possibility of that piece of plastic entering the marine environment and causing more harm to wildlife. If everyone on Rarotonga was a conscious consumer it can have an impact on what the importers bring into the country. It would encourage our local businesses to start bringing in more eco-conscious products that support a safer and healthier environment for us and those species we share it with.