There are different species of sea turtles in our ocean waters, from the Indian Ocean, to the Coral Triangle, and to the Eastern Pacific. They spend the bulk of their lives in the ocean. Sea turtles come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors.
Sea turtles hear best at low frequencies, and their sense of smell is excellent. Their vision underwater is good. Their streamlined bodies and large flippers make them an easy life at sea.
FACTS ABOUT SEA TURTLES
- Sea turtles are most ancient creatures on Earth, existing for more than 100 million years.
- They are marine reptiles, which breathe air to survive and are found in tropical and subtropical seas around the world.
- Their protective shells are made up of an upper section, called the carapace, and a lower section called the plastron.
- They do not have teeth, but instead, have a modified beak suited for their particular diet.
- There are seven different species of sea turtles that live in our oceans:
- Hawksbill Turtle
- Kemp’s Ridley Turtle
- Leatherback Turtle
- Loggerhead Turtle
- Olive Ridley Turtle
- Flatback Sea Turtle
- The smallest species of sea turtle is the Kemp’s Ridley, weighing only up to 100 lbs (45 kg).
- The largest species of sea turtle is the Leatherback, weighing up to 1,500 lbs (680 kg).
- Each species has its unique diet:
- The Green sea turtle feeds on seagrasses.
- Leatherbacks feed on jellyfish and other soft-bodied animals.
- Loggerheads feed on crabs, clams, and other heavy shelled animals.
- Female sea turtles lay their eggs on land in sandy coastal areas, the majority of which return to the same beach they were born to nest. Nesting times for sea turtles typically occur from April through October, with most females nesting at least twice within the mating season.
- The population of sea turtles has rapidly declined due to the demand for sea turtle eggs, meat, skin, and shell.
- The Green, Leatherback, and Hawksbill turtles are classified as endangered.
- The Loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles are classified as threatened.
Why are sea turtles important?
Role in the Ecosystem:
- Play an important role in ocean ecosystems by maintaining healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs.
- Providing key habitat for other marine life.
- Helping to balance marine food webs and facilitating nutrient cycling from water to land.
- They feed on jellyfish play a crucial ecological role as a top predator for jellyfish and make a major contribution to jellyfish population control.
They serve as a large tourist attraction in many tropical and sub-tropical areas. In 2009, it was estimated that 176,000 people took part in sea turtle tours in more than 40 countries. For one national park in Costa Rica, marine turtle tourism brings in $6.7 million annually.
What are threats to sea turtles?
The gender of sea turtles is determined by how hot or cold the surrounding environment is while they are in their eggs. Warmer temperatures result in more female hatchlings, while colder temperatures will produce more male hatchlings. With climate change causing, on average, warmer and warmer temperatures, that sea turtle populations will be at risk due to more females being born than males and reproduction rates going down as a result.
Plastic pollution is another serious issue that harms sea turtles and all aquatic life. The plastic will block their intestines and become life-threatening. Often, sea turtles will become entangled in plastic netting or other marine debris floating in the ocean. This can cause the turtles to drown if they are unable to get oxygen from the surface.
Ever-expanding coastal development and human traffic on beaches continually disrupts sea turtle nesting. Destruction or degradation of vital beaches that sea turtles use as nesting grounds causes a considerable threat to sea turtles and their ability to nest and reproduce successfully.
Every year, thousands of them are accidentally caught in nets and fishing lines, becoming fishing industry bycatch. When trapped in these lines and nets, sea turtles are unable to reach the surface to breathe, and as a result, many die.
How to save sea turtles?
- If you live near the beach then turn off any lights that could be seen from the shore.
- Artificial lights can also confuse hatchlings and cause them to head in the wrong direction, putting them at risk from predators and other dangers.
- Pick up any trash or litter you see lying around and dispose of it properly, specifically plastic bags and balloons which sea turtles often mistake for food.
- Be aware of what chemicals you are using on your lawn and at home. Harsh and toxic chemicals can wash into the ocean, killing plants and animals along the way. Try looking for safer biodegradable alternatives.
- Noise and lights from people can disturb female turtles as they are trying to lay their eggs.
- Do not disturb female sea turtles as they are emerging from the ocean and looking for a place to nest.
- By buying fish and their products from certified sustainable sources, you can help ensure that turtles are protected.