Stupid sea turtle question

I am sure most of us are familiar with the nature documentary staple of baby sea turtles trying to make it to the water through a gauntlet of sea birds and crabs. Once the baby turtle gets to the water they can be drowned by the surf or eaten by other predators until the find their way to the deeper water where they live by eating jellyfish. The odds of a baby sea turtle making it to adulthood are about 1 in 1000.
Because of habitat depletion and plastic poisoning most species of sea turtles are endangered and there are many programs designed to help sea turtles survive. Most of these seem to involve staking out nests so they are undisturbed and getting people to turn off lights so the turtles go to the sea and not to the bright lights.
It seems to me the obvious way to help sea turtle populations would be to wait by the nest with a basket and scoop the baby sea turtles into the basket and then take them on a boat to the deep water. Thus no turtles die on the beach or shallow water and instead of one in a thousand surviving you might get 5 or ten per thousand making it to adulthood.
I googled this the best I could but can not find any record of people transporting baby sea turtles like this. There must be a good reason no one does this but I can’t think of it. I know it would be alot of work but sea turtle eggs hatch around the same time each year for a short period so it would be alot of work for a couple weeks and then nothing the rest of the year.

I believe it’s the case that turtles normally return as breeding adults to the beach where they were born - that could be a problem if they don’t experience the land to sea transition in the normal way.

Presumably, we could do that, or even more, like rear them in a particular safe aquarium environment. We generally reserve such stringent, and expensive steps, for species in serious danger of extinction. There seems to be a meme with biologists that the best way to preserve a species is to allow natural selection to work as unaffected as possible. Example, if 10% of those hatchlings have deformed limbs, do we coddle those too. Carefully rear them so the widdle turt-turts gwoed up to big old mommy and daddies, and propagate the defect? Why are some deformed and some not? Are the healthy ones lucky, or do they carry a genetic propensity to do better things while they’re growing, and shouldn’t that be encouraged in preference. Even worse, does what we consider to be superior or defective actually apply, in the grand scheme of things? We don’t really know. So we try to muddle as little as possible.

The Cayman Islands has something similar to what the OP suggests, though I believe they simply release the turtles into shallow water.

The Department of Environment recruits volunteers and train them to recognize turtle tracks in the sand. The volunteers take a morning walk each day and take note of any new tracks and nests. The DOE staff take note of the location and since they know within 24 hours when the nest was laid that really narrows down the time the hatchlings are likely to emerge.

The alternative, and much more criticized way, of boosting sea turtle numbers is to farm them. The Cayman Turtle Farm does just that, raising green sea turtles from a captive population. Many are butchered for their meat but the lucky few are released to the wild after a head start of a couple years of growing at the farm. The meat produced at the farm is a way to satisfy local demand (turtle being a historically popular dish in Cayman) without poaching from the wild population.

While it’s very photogenic to film sea turtles during their famed journey from nest to sea, the threat from predators during that journey is not the major threat to the existence of various species of sea turtles.
Instead, the major threats to sea turtle population come from:

  • Fishing (either as accidental bycatch or deliberately as target of fisheries)

  • Habitat modification/destruction - humans change beach shape, activity, lighting, and other features of beaches dramatically, reducing the probability that beaches will be found and used by sea turtles to breed. We also cause major changes in feeding habitat, such as coral reefs, through runoff, fishing, coral collecting and recreational activity, dredging, etc.

  • Ingestion of inedible materials - plastic is in particular a large problem because plastic items resemble food such as sea jellies to turtles underwater. Once ingested, plastic is extremely difficult to digest, reducing the space available for actual food in the digestive tract and sometimes closing the digestive tract entirely.

  • Environmental contamination of various types, including oil spills, both the dramatic accidents and the spills incidental to normal operations of all types of fueled vessels, strikes by vessels, noise created by boats, drilling, and geological exploration activities.
    In light of these major threats, the bringing of turtles from the beach to the sea is a very minor issue.

Some examples for a few turtle species:

From the National Marine Fisheries Service

Also from the National Marine Fisheries Service

Same source

Yet another NFMS page
So you can see that the predation by seagulls, crabs, ravens, etc. of young on the way from the nests/beaches to the sea is not likely to have as large a conservation impact as changing human behavior around egging and fishing, beach modification, and ocean modification. That’s why carrying sea turtles in a basket is likely to feel good, but not really be a great boon to the turtle population.

Why don’t we just ask a stupid sea turtle the question?

Because they’re stupid.

I’m mystified by one fact about Philippine sea turtles. The best time to release hatchlings (in a specific beach) is early morning. The scientists say that’s before predatory fish and birds come out to hunt. Therefore: any hatching during “happy hour” means almost no hatchling makes it alive past day 1.

The large number of sea turtle hatchlings from a single mating pair, together with the limited parenting effort expended by sea turtle parents, is a good example of r-selected reproduction strategy. While the theory itself is of pretty limited utility, it does describe that it’s very common for species to adopt an evolutionary strategy that includes limited or non-existent care for the young, accepting high infant mortality, yet thrive.

Rats, cockroaches, and most spiders are also r-selected strategists compared to humans, but nobody seems worried that 1 in 400,000* spider hatchlings survive to adulthood.

*Number comes from a posterior source - not to be taken literally.

Few people want 400,000 more spiders.

Aha! But if spiders adopted a K-selected reproduction strategy, they’d have an average of two point five children and lull you to sleep by playing Verdi on their webs each night.

You see the dilemma? :wink:

I saw Billy Connolly once, saying he’d be envious of turtles for living like 400 years, “except that they don’t learn a fooking thing! After all that time they’re still [breast-stroking slowly with his arms] mmmmllllaaaah, mmmmmllllaaahh…”

Excuse me, Stewardess? I speak Stoopid Sea Turtle.

And dolphins - they just muck around in the water all day having a good time. How silly is that?