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Why Has the Sea Turtle Become a Symbol of Environmental Protection?

The divine incarnation of the Indian god Vishnu, who turned himself into a turtle to uphold the world. Photo source unknown.

Sea turtles are among the oldest creatures on earth, and for the past 110 million years they have remained essentially unchanged. Their deep reverence by many global cultures ensures that the animal enjoys protected status. In Hindu mythology, the god Vishnu turned himself into a turtle to hold up the world. In Hawai’ian mythology, sea turtles gave birth to Kauila in a fresh water spring on Punalu’u beach, giving the islands of Hawai’i clean water. It's clear to see that the turtle lies at the center of many creation stories.

The Punalu'u Turtle Monument at Black Sand Beach Park. Photo by Doug Lung.

But the sea turtle is also popular symbol among organizations working in global environmental conservation. Non-profits from all over the world feature the animal in fiscal giving, environmental and retail campaigns, capitalizing on public sentiment and recognition of this popular species. Why is that?

When one thinks of marine conservation, we conjure images of dolphins caught in nets, beached whales with stomachs full of plastic, or maybe a turtle with a straw stuck in its nose. It’s noted that a video of the latter, more specifically an Olive Ridley turtle, captured in 2015 by scientist Christine Figgener, massively contributed to today's conservation emphasis on the sea turtle.

The video, which was viewed over 100 million times and circulated all over the world, catapulted the sea turtle to the forefront of the anti-plastics movement, contributing to straw-bans and prompting environmentally-conscious organizations to alter their business models. These green-marketing companies heavily internalized the public messages following the release of the video and started producing alternative plastic products.

Although the sea turtle’s prominence on the global stage might be a recent shift, the sea turtle has been a symbol of deep cultural importance in many cultures since time immemorial.

At the same time, attention triggered by the viral video contributed to an increase in studies and funding dedicated to understanding plastic and micro-plastic pollution. Even recently, scientists for the first time have detected the presence of microplastics in human blood, raising deep alarm.

Reflecting on the struggles of Sea Turtle's helps us to take a mirror to our own habits and how they are negatively impacting the health of species all over the planet.

It's clear to see that attention and reverence for these mystical creatures transcends the passage of time. The turtles' plight forecasts draws a direct link between the health of these species and that of our own. Now more than ever, it's important to take steps to continue to protect Sea Turtles from the harmful effects of human occupation in their habitats.

If we all take steps to educate ourselves, we can make positive change and continue to support the health of this ancient creature.



Jensen, Audrey, "Shifting Focus: Redefining the Goals of Sea Turtle Consumption and Protection in Bali" (2009). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 753

Chiu, Hannah, “The Sea Turtle as a Marketing Symbol for the AntiPlastics Movement” (2019). Pitzer College Senior Thesis, Pitzer College, Claremont CA.

Carrington, Damian, “Microplastics found in human blood for first time” (Thu March 24, 2022). The Guardian

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