Turtles are much beloved by so many around the world. Sea turtles have been living on planet earth for approximately 110 million years since the days of the dinosaurs, and nearly became extinct because of poachers stealing their eggs, and eating the meat of these beautiful mariners of the sea. Three of the seven species are on the critically endangered list. The seven species include the green sea turtle, the loggerhead sea turtle, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, olive ridley sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, flatback sea turtle, and leatherback sea turtle. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest of the species measuring 6 to 9 ft. in length, and can weigh up to 2,000 lbs.
Sea turtles use their back flippers to dig holes in the sand to prepare to lay a clutch of 100-125 eggs which take 2 months to incubate. Once the baby sea turtles hatch, they instinctively make their way to the open sea to live out their lives. The sex of the baby sea turtles is determined by the temperature of the sand in the nest; cooler incubation temperatures produce males and warmer temperatures produce females. If the temperature fluctuates, the nest will produce both male and female turtles. Most sea turtles lay their eggs at night, with the only exception being the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that lays its eggs during the day. One interesting phenomenon is called “arribadas” which means “arrival” in Spanish; large groups of female sea turtles gather offshore and come onshore in a dramatic display of nesting. Only two ridley turtles display the arribada nesting pattern, the Kemp’s ridley and the olive ridley sea turtles. Although there are various theories as to what causes this unusual behavior, such as cycles of the moon, offshore winds, or pheromones, one fact remains: “Having so many nests at one time reduces the numbers of eggs and hatchlings killed by predators.”
Green sea turtles are herbivores and eat sea grasses and algae. This diet causes their fat and cartilages to have a green color, but not their shell. The hawksbill sea turtle can be found on the coral reefs eating sponges. Their sharp beak is designed to reach into the holes and crevices around the reefs to obtain their favorite food. Leatherback sea turtles have “spiny papillae” lining their mouth and esophagus which allows them to eat their favorite food which are jellyfish.
Sea turtles are different from their mainland cousins in one distinct way. They cannot retract their flippers or their heads into their shells. They may be slow and lumbering on land, but are graceful and agile swimmers in the water. Sea turtles, if left unmolested, will live up to 50 years, and do not reach maturity until 20 to 30 years of age. They will remain able to reproduce for approximately 10 years after sexual maturity.
The greatest danger to sea turtles is fishing gear. Turtles become entangled in the fishing gear and cannot escape. They are also killed by poachers for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells. Climate change is also a factor affecting nesting beaches and eggs. Let’s all do our part to save these graceful creatures of the sea!
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