July 19, 2018
Turtles may seem commonplace to many of us and we may see them in pet stores, near a local pond, in a kid’s cartoon and on the nature channels on television.
Turtles seem pretty tough, too! That big shell is a nice protection and their ability to withdraw inside it keeps them a little safer.
Even so, no earthly creature is completely safe and when it comes to the unique and special sea turtle, the threats are extreme.
Sea turtles are not like a tortoise that you might spot in your backyard.
Sea turtles cannot survive outside of water and it has to be water of the right temperature and salinity.
Some sea turtles live a very long time, and some types also don’t even come to breeding age until they are well past twenty years old!
The females of many sea turtle species only lay eggs once a year, so when you consider this slow breeding process, you can see why they need a very safe environment in order to survive. Unfortunately, they do not have a safe environment in today’s world.
Most sea turtle female return to shore when it’s time to nest and some species return to the same shore where they were born or where they laid eggs in the years before.
They have a risky journey just to get to the nesting grounds. If they arrive healthy and safe they will meet with the males offshore and the eggs are fertilized during breeding. The female then travels to the beach where she will search for a place to lay eggs.
Beaches are very popular places today so the female turtle may not find a peaceful location to lay eggs.
Hotels, restaurants, bars, and homes are built along the shore and the lights and activity can be confusing to turtles. People may be everywhere on the beach.
The female needs to find a safe spot to dig a good nest, prepare it for the eggs, lay a large number of eggs and then cover them.
She needs to be undisturbed to do this, so all the shore activity is a threat.
The eggs are on their own once the mother had done her work.
Eggs are often sought after by animal and human predators since they are used as food or sometimes sold to tourists.
The surrounding temperatures usually determine whether the hatchlings will be born as males or females, so climate change can cause an unusually high number of one gender.
If the eggs do remain safe until they hatch, the hatchlings must use their natural instincts to navigate out to sea.
Artificial lighting and noise on the beach can confuse the hatchlings and shore birds or other wildlife may be on the lookout for an easy meal.
Hatchlings need to find food right away, so while they are trying to avoid all the other threats, they need to obtain small marine animals, fish or vegetation to eat.
Then they must swim out to open sea. They are very vulnerable at this stage.
Juvenile sea turtles vary somewhat between species. Some of them stay out at sea for a fairly short time and migrate to where they will live as adults.
Some species roam the wide open seas for years while they mature.
They must be able to find the food that is right for them.
Most sea turtles eat meat and need to locate jellyfish, crabs, fish or other food.
Some sea turtles eat an all or partial diet of vegetation and may need to locate the right type of sea grass, algae or other plant life. If they cannot find food, they will die.
This time out to sea is also a very difficult time for turtles. Turtles will naturally dive underwater for various activities. It is common today for turtles to get caught in fishing wire or fishing nets and get trapped underwater. They cannot survive indefinitely underwater even if they have access to food, so they drown.
Poachers are also a threat to sea turtles at all life stages. Turtles may be hunted for their meat or they be may sold to tourists. Some poachers kill the turtles and discard the meat like garbage so they can make crafts to sell or harvest the shell itself to sell.
Sea turtles will stay near an appropriate food source and most species stay near other adult turtles. Since they need to eat to live, many meet their end during the search for food.
Jellyfish are food sources for several species of sea turtles, but plastic bags and bottles filled with seawater may be eaten by accident.
The plastic bags and other trash has collected in the sea in enormous quantities, so turtles are threatened by all this pollution. Turtles may be poisoned by the by-products or choked by the floating trash. It is no wonder that all species of sea turtle today are in danger and several species could soon be extinct.
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