Sea Turtles

sea turtle and swimmer

Sea Turtle Biology

There are seven species of sea turtles worldwide. They are: (left to right) leatherback, Kemp’s ridley, green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and olive ridley sea turtles.

All sea turtles found are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Human threats, including oil spills, have significantly reduced many sea turtle populations in recent centuries.

 

sea turtle species

Sea turtle populations takes a long time to recover because they grow slowly and do not reproduce every year.

Sea Turtle Life History

Sea turtles rely on a variety of habitats that can be damaged by man’s activities.

 

sea turtle life history

Nesting Females, Eggs, and Hatchlings
With the exception of basking green turtles in Hawaii, the only time turtles crawl ashore is for the females to lay their eggs. Females lay their clutches of eggs every 2-4 years on beaches, then return to the ocean. The embryos develop buried in the sand for around 45-60 days. Hatchlings emerge from their nests, quickly crawl to the surf, and begin a marathon swim to find refuge within offshore areas.

Juveniles, Surface-Pelagic Life Stage
Most post-hatchling turtles live at the surface of the open ocean. Turtles at this stage have limited diving ability, and spend more than 80% of their time at or near the surface.

Large Juveniles and Adults
Large juvenile and adult sea turtles spend most of their time in shallower water, along the continental shelf or nearshore environments. At this age they have developed into active swimmers, diving frequently to depths greater than 65 feet.

Sea turtles have extremely accurate navigational systems that allow them to migrate between widely separated feeding and breeding grounds.

Keeping a weather eye open

keeping-a-weather-eye-open

"Scoff if you will Mateys! ...but after reading this you'll keep a weather eye on the waters round yer vessel when anchored!"

IDIOM: keep a (or one’s) weather eye open. To keep watch; stay alert.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language http://www.bartleby.com/61/21/W0072100.html

“weather eye”  NOUN: An ability to recognize quickly signs of changes in the weather.

As a sea kayaker, you should work on developing a good “weather eye” (along with all your other seamen’s tricks).  Various sights, sounds and smells can tip you off to changes that portend trouble. All you have to do is learn what they are for your kayaking area and keep that weather eye peeled. 

What to look for here in Hong Kong.
The weather is the most important criteria for planning when going sea kayaking. The kayaker who paddles without knowing the weather forecast is just asking for trouble.

Winds & the kayaker

When things go wrong for kayakers at sea, it’s usually because of a little too much wind.
Sea kayaks cope very well with waves, tides, currents and extremes of temperature, but too much wind can be a real problem. 

If the day of your trip is windy, you can avoid problems by changing your plans. Shorten the trip. Move it to a small estuary with wooded sides, or the downwind side of a headland. On a windy day, paddle upwind to start with so if anybody gets tired, the group will have an easy downwind ride back to where you started from.

If you are out kayaking and a strong wind is blowing right in your face, keep up the pace until you get to shelter. 
If you go slowly you will be out there struggling for a lot longer. If you stop for a rest you will drift backwards faster than you expect. A 10-minute rest on open water in a strong wind can cost you an extra 20 or 30 minutes paddling.

Also, wind creates waves. When a strong wind blows out to sea, the water may be smooth inshore but increasingly rough as you get further away from the beach. And the further you go out to sea, the rougher the sea and the stronger the wind. An onshore wind blowing a long distance over water can create a heavy surf which makes things difficult or even dangerous, especially when exiting the ocean. Knowing how to surf you kayak is essential in these conditions!

What is the best weather for kayaking?

A cloudy (overcast) day with little or no wind.

Some people are put off kayaking by cloudy days, but that can be the best time to head out. Kayaking in light rain is also quite refreshing and you’re going to get wet anyway, so don’t let a few showers put you off.

When the weather is overcast you don’t get baked by the sun so you tire less quickly and can have more fun kayaking out on the water. This is very important in Hong Kong

Bright sunny days are the most popular time to hire a kayak becuase most people haven’t had the experience of sitting on or in a kayak with no shade in the hot Hong Kong sun. This is infact not the best time to go kayaking. More information about the dangers of over heating while kayaking will be published in a future article.

So, if you are planning a kayaking trip in Hong Kong, or anywhere for that matter, make sure you get the latest weather information, understand it, apply it to the local geography and have a safe fun day on the ocean making sure you always ‘keep your weather eye open”!

Sea horses slaughtered in Hong Kong

Used as a natural Viagra in Chinese medicine, seahorse numbers are declining.

By Sarah Lazarus,

CNN Updated 0037 GMT (0837 HKT) June 7, 2019

Hong Kong (CNN)
In a row of shops in Sheung Wan, on the western side of Hong Kong Island, the seahorses are stored in plastic boxes and glass jars, their elongated, S-shaped bodies stacked like spoons.

In Hong Kong, this district is the center of the trade in traditional Chinese medicine — an ancient system that uses dried plants and animal parts to treat ailments.
Its narrow streets are crammed with delivery trucks and men pushing trolleys loaded with crates of dried fungi, herbs, berries — and seahorses.
In Chinese medicine, seahorses are believed to have Viagra-like powers.

Hong Kong is the world’s largest trading hub for the dried animal.

Sarah Foster, program manager of Project Seahorse at the University of British Columbia in Canada, said that analysis of global trade datashows that Hong Kong was responsible for around two thirds of all seahorse imports from 2004 to 2017.

The World Wildlife Fund has reported that their popularity as a medicine is also driving sales in China, Taiwan and Indonesia. While nobody knows how many seahorse are left in the world, experts say they are under threat.

With their miniature equine snouts and beady eyes, seahorses look very different than most other fish. And unusually, it’s the males that get pregnant.

But perhaps more importantly to conservation efforts, these are hard animals to study. Spread across vast oceans, some seahorses are less than an inch long and some can change color to camouflage themselves — making them challenging to spot.

Sheung Wan is the epicenter of the trade in Chinese medicine and dried seafood in Hong Kong.
Foster said that about 37 million seahorses are caught in the wild every year. And despite regulations designed to protect them, smuggling is rampant.

According to Project Seahorse, research carried out around the world shows that populations of at least 11 species have dropped by between 30% and 50% over the past 15 years.

Why are seahorses used in Chinese medicine?
Seahorses were first mentioned in Chinese medical literature in 700AD but their use probably goes back much further, said Lixing Lao, director of the School of Chinese Medicine at the University of Hong Kong.

“According to Chinese medicine theory, seahorse is nourishing … and gives the body more energy,” he said. Mixed with herbs and boiled as a tea, dried seahorses are most commonly used to treat asthma and male sexual dysfunction, including impotence and premature ejaculation, he said.

Lao said there isn’t there any scientific evidence that seahorses could relieve asthma or boost sexual performance, adding that there had not been any clinical trials carried out on humans in this area. 

As a former British colony, Hong Kong sees a mix of both Western medicine and Chinese medicine — there were 7,425 registered Chinese medicine practitioners in the territory in 2017, according to the Department of Health.

Seahorses retail in Sheung Wan for up to 40 Hong Kong dollars ($5) each.

A herbal medicine shop in Sheung Wan. According to the owner, the cat is not for sale.

A shop assistant in Sheung Wan, who declined to give his name, said that from what he has seen, seahorses are mostly bought by men over the age of 50.

Smuggled in suitcases
In theory, seahorses are protected animals.

In 2002, all species were listed under Appendix II of CITES, an international treaty designed to ensure that the international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. With this listing, seahorses can be exported only if they have been sourced sustainably and legally, and there is paperwork to prove it.

Some countries, including Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, went further and imposed blanket bans on seahorse exports.

But these efforts have not saved seahorses, said Foster. Instead, the bans have created a black market.

Earlier this year, Foster participated in a research project in Hong Kong. Investigators questioned 220 traders about the origin of their seahorse stocks during 2016 and 2017 and found that an estimated 95% were imported from countries with export bans. The traders revealed that Thailand is the number one supplier of Hong Kong’s Chinese medicine shops — despite that country officially suspending exports in January 2016.

Small and non-perishable, dried seahorses are easily smuggled across borders, sometimes in mixed consignments with other dried seafood. Several of the traders in Foster’s project admitted to carrying them in to Hong Kong in suitcases. With the trade now operating in the shadows, “it’s a lot harder for us to monitor, track and manage it,” said Foster.

Seahorses for sale in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district.

The Chinese medicine shops in Sheung Wan are not breaking the law in selling seahorses. A spokesperson for the Hong Kong government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said that CITES measures for seahorses are designed to control import and export, but Hong Kong law does not ban trade within the territory.

The AFCD has been trying to stop the illegal imports. In 2018, Hong Kong authorities seized 45 shipments of incoming dried seahorses weighing a total of 470 kilograms — approximately 175,000 seahorses. The heaviest penalty handed to a smuggler was a four-month prison sentence, said the spokesperson.

Caught in the net
The traditional Chinese medicine market might be fueling demand for seahorses, but if the trade was stopped it would not save them, said Foster. That’s because the underlying problem isn’t Chinese medicine — “it’s the fishing industry,” she said.

By dragging a large net between them, these Thai pair trawlers catch more fish than two boats operating independently.
Foster explained that as relatively rare animals, seahorses are not usually targeted by fishing boats. However, when indiscriminate fishing gear is used, they get scooped up in the nets along with everything else.

Trawl nets — large nets that are dragged along the seabed, catching everything in their path — are the worst offenders. According to Project Seahorse, trawlers drag an area of seabed twice the size of the continental United States, every year.

Trawl fishing is widespread in Africa, Latin America, east Asia and southeast Asia, said Foster, and southeast Asia is a hotspot for seahorses. 

As a valuable item, seahorses are usually retrieved from fishing nets and sold.
Even if the trade disappeared, seahorses would still be caught in the nets, said Foster — which would almost certainly kill them. “Either way, they would be dying,” she added. Foster said the only way to save seahorses is to better manage fisheries — reducing the size of fishing fleets, closing large areas of ocean to trawlers and making greater efforts to keep trawlers out of existing exclusion zones.

CNN contacted Thailand’s Department of Fisheries for their view on seahorse exports and fisheries regulation but had not received a reply at the time of publication.
Foster would also like to see trade bans properly enforced with more rigorous checking of dried seafood shipments.

“Without greater political will, it won’t be possible to stamp out the problem,” she said, adding that she fears that seahorses will be wiped out in some parts of the world.