Around the world, sea turtles are revered for their beauty and celebrated as one of Earth’s oldest creatures. But, as a new film from global conservation organization WildAid illustrates, it’s this beauty as well as plastic pollution, bycatch, and coastal development that threatens their very existence. WildAid, Chinese streaming service Youku, and the China Sea Turtle Conservation Alliance are proud to announce “Between the Sea and Shore,” a three-part documentary that calls for immediate action to save sea turtles from extinction.
To help bring this message to mainstream audiences, popular actor and WildAid ambassador Eddie Peng embarks on an epic adventure to learn about the many threats sea turtles face around the world. Along the way, he meets environmental warriors on the front lines of the battle to save sea turtles.
As a dedicated environmental advocate, Peng notes, “This was my chance to learn about the complex issues sea turtles face and be a voice for these incredible animals. In making this film I met so many heroes working to save them. Their work is truly remarkable. I hope I can inspire the audience to take action, starting with simple things such as never buying sea turtle products, reducing our use of disposable plastics, and choosing certified sustainable seafood.”
In the documentary, Peng visits a wildlife hospital in Ecuador’s Machalilla National Park – a WildAid partner and the only facility of its kind. There, he sees the devastating effects of fishing gear and plastic, and sees how vulnerable sea turtles are to human impacts.
As one of the oldest species in the ocean, sea turtle populations have declined dramatically in recent decades from habitat loss, bycatch, and pollution, but also the devastating illegal trade in their eggs, meat, and shells. Parts of the shell and whole bodies of critically endangered hawksbill turtles are used for crafts and souvenirs, such as tourist trinkets, combs, glasses frames, hand fans, and other accessories. Also, meat from green and leatherback turtles and eggs from loggerhead and olive ridley turtles are widely consumed as important sources of protein and nutrition by coastal fishing communities in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.
Conservation Efforts in China
Of the seven species of sea turtles, five are found in China’s waters, where primary active nesting sites remain in the remote Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. However, the ongoing illegal sale and consumption of sea turtle products are leading to a rapid decline. The Huidong Sea Turtle Nature Reserve in Guangdong Province had around 500 nesting turtles 70 years ago, but in 2012, only two nesting turtles were counted.
Products made from sea turtle shells are easily found for sale throughout Asia. In the last five years, Chinese authorities have intercepted 38 smuggling cases involving sea turtle products. The most commonly seen items are made from hawksbill turtles whose populations have dramatically declined over the past century. The IUCN estimates there are fewer than 23,000 nesting females.
In 2018, China issued a sea turtle conservation action plan to help restore the country’s dwindling sea turtle population. Along with restoring habitat and combating illegal trade, a key feature of this plan is to build public awareness and support for protecting sea turtles.
“Partnering with WildAid on this film shows the government’s commitment to marine conservation, and we’re honored to work together with them,” said WildAid China Chief Representative, Steve Blake. “But also key to the film reaching its objectives is the participation of Eddie Peng. He is a role model to his fans all over Asia and has long used his voice to raise awareness on environmental issues. We invited Eddie to help bring the plight of sea turtles and ocean health from the periphery to the front and center in the public discourse. This is what drives change, and this film has the star power, media support, and compelling story to make that happen.”
“Between the Sea and Shore” was produced and directed by Emmy award-winning Andrew Wegst. It is a co-production of WildAid, Youku and the China Sea Turtle Conservation Alliance, and will be released the first week of December 2019.