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Turtles come out of their shell

22 May 2008 – Wellington

Forest & Bird media release for immediate use

Turtles come out of their shell

Most New Zealanders are more familiar with pet turtles in living room aquariums than the large turtles that swim off our coast, but Forest & Bird is asking Kiwis to help protect these fascinating sea creatures on World Turtle Day this Friday (May 23).

World Turtle Day celebrates the endangered creatures and highlights ways to protect them from human threats.

Five species of sea turtle have been recorded in New Zealand waters, with the leatherback the most commonly seen, especially off the West Coast, according to Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles.

The leatherback is the largest turtle in the world – up to three metres long – and the heaviest – up to 900 kilograms – and can dive the deepest – down to 900 metres. It is also critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Other sea turtles recorded in New Zealand waters include the loggerhead turtle, the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle and the olive ridley turtle, which are seasonal visitors, mainly in the north.

Sea turtles have been swimming in our oceans for at least 110 million years, but now human activities threaten turtle populations around the world. Threats include entanglement and drowning in fishing gear, eating plastic, habitat disturbance, and killing turtles for their eggs, meat and shells, says Kirstie Knowles.

How New Zealanders can help protect turtles:

• Don't pollute or litter. Pollution makes its way to sea, poisoning turtles and destroying their habitats. Always properly dispose of hazardous materials such as paint or oil. Litter, such as plastic bags, kills many sea turtles. They sometimes eat plastic, which blocks their digestion and they starve, or they get tangled in it and drown.

• Organise a beach clean-up. Help make our seas healthy for sea turtles and other marine life. Contact your local Forest & Bird branch and get active.

• Take care when travelling overseas. If you are holidaying at an overseas beach, check whether there are nesting turtles. If so, make sure your accommodation supports turtle conservation. Steer clear of the beach at night during the summer. You will frighten nesting sea turtles back into the sea, stopping them from laying eggs and jeopardising any eggs they have laid.

• Do not buy or use products made from tortoise shell. International trade in wild turtle products is banned by all countries that have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), including New Zealand.

What’s the difference?

Turtles live in the sea, and have flippers and thin, flat shells to make them more buoyant.

Tortoises live on the land, and have legs adapted for walking and thick, round shells to protect them from predators.

Terapins live in fresh water and spend some time on land.


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