YGA Journal | Article

World SEa Turtle Day

Journey into the Night: Responsible Tourism and Sea Turtle Conservation

Delve into the urgency of practicing responsible tourism and nurturing sea turtle populations in the face of increasing scarcity, while discovering actionable steps each of us can take to play a vital role in their preservation.


Published June 16, 2023

As the sun sinks below the horizon, the crowd on the beach grows silent, their eyes fixated on the spectacle unfolding before them. Newly hatched sea turtles, no bigger than the palm of a hand, are making their laborious trek towards the ocean. It’s a moment of pure magic, a testament to the tenacity of life. Yet this awe-inspiring scene is increasingly under threat due to the impact of irresponsible tourism on sea turtles.

Sea turtles have graced our oceans for more than 100 million years, outliving the dinosaurs and surviving the Earth’s changing climates. However, in just a few short decades, human activities, including tourism, have led to a significant decline in their populations worldwide.

On popular nesting beaches, the presence of large crowds, light pollution from beachfront properties, and beach litter all pose significant threats to these ancient mariners. Sea turtles rely on moonlight to guide them to the ocean, and artificial lighting can disorient both mothers and hatchlings, leading them inland where they risk dehydration or predation.

Moreover, the desire to get that ‘perfect’ Instagram shot can lead to harassment of turtles, disrupting their nesting process or causing mothers to abort their nesting attempts. Such actions can have dire consequences for these already endangered creatures.

But there’s hope. Each of us, as a responsible tourist, can make a significant difference in protecting these fascinating animals. Here’s how:

1. Observe Respectfully: It’s crucial to remember that sea turtles are protected under international law, and interfering with them can result in hefty fines and penalties. Keeping a safe distance (recommended at least 30 feet) not only respects their space but also ensures their natural behavior isn’t disrupted. Don’t be tempted to touch, ride, or harass turtles at any stage of their life cycle. It’s stressful for the animal and can lead to defensive actions. If you see others behaving irresponsibly, you might respectfully suggest better practices or report to local wildlife authorities if necessary.

2. Turn Off the Lights: Sea turtles have evolved over millions of years to use natural light cues for navigation. Adult females and hatchlings use the moonlight reflecting on the water to guide their path to and from the sea. Artificial light from homes, streetlights, and flash photography can disorient turtles, leading them to wander inland where they’re at risk. If you’re near a nesting beach, remember to turn off outdoor lights, close your curtains, and avoid using flash photography at night. Many coastal communities have ‘Lights Out’ policies during nesting season – supporting these can make a huge difference.

3. Don’t Leave Litter Behind: Turtles face enough natural obstacles; they shouldn’t have to navigate our left-behind garbage too. Litter, like plastic bags and balloons, can be mistaken for food and cause internal blockages when eaten. Other items like beach furniture, toys, or leftover sandcastles can impede turtles’ path to the sea. Always clean up after your beach day, and consider participating in local beach clean-ups to help keep these habitats safe.


4. Support Local Conservation Efforts: Many coastal communities have set up sea turtle conservation programs to protect these creatures. They may operate turtle hatcheries, conduct research, raise awareness, and help enforce laws protecting sea turtles. As tourists, you can support these efforts in several ways. Join guided turtle watching tours led by professionals who know how to minimize disturbance to the turtles. Donate to conservation organizations or consider adopting a turtle (symbolically). If you have more time, volunteer opportunities may allow you to get involved hands-on, such as by helping monitor nesting sites or assisting with beach cleanups.

Responsible tourism is a powerful tool in the fight to protect sea turtles. By adopting these practices, we can ensure that future generations will also have the chance to witness the incredible journey of sea turtles from the nest to the sea. So, let’s put our hands off our shells and give sea turtles the respect and space they need to thrive. After all, these ancient mariners are more than just a photo opportunity – they are a vital part of our planet’s biodiversity that deserves our utmost protection and care.