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All the eggs in one basket

91 million green turtles living throughout the Caribbean during this same time period. For Hawksbill turtles, the researchers estimate the population has dwindled from 11 million to less than 30,000.

McClenachan and colleagues suggest that the loss of entire nesting sites and nesting populations has compounded the population drop for the turtles, and see the reestablishment of lost sites as "extremely unlikely." Their data point to hunting destroying 24 nesting sites of the two species of turtles, which also severely thinned turtle populations at the remaining sites.

Impact on Ecosystems

Besides the loss of the turtles themselves, sea turtles were also ecosystem engineers in the Caribbean, shaping the environment in which they lived.

According to the researchers, "The ecological extinction of green turtles transformed an ecosystem with diverse species of seagrass dominated by large herbivores into a detritus-based ecosystem dominated by overgrown monocultures of one species of grass."

Green turtles feed mostly on turtle grass, while hawksbill turtles prefer marine sponges.

"The decline in green turtles has led to a loss of productivity available to the animal food chain ?including commercial reef fishes ?reducing the protein-rich food available for the Caribbean people," say the researchers.

When the hawksbill's numbers were larger they ate more toxic sponges. Now however, the results suggest the turtles are eating more non-toxic sponges. According to observations gathered by McClenachan's group, the toxicity of hawksbill turtle meat has decreased from the 17th through 20th century, most likely due the turtles eating fewer of the toxic sponges. The changing ratio of sponge species will ultimately affect the landscape of coral reefs.

The scientists say more protection is needed for the sea turtle nesting sites.

"Protecting more nesting beaches is not a politically o
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Source:Ecological Society of America


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