What are they and
where do they live | Florida is an important
nest area | Adapting to life at sea |
The females nesting process | Hatching
and maturing | Decline in population
| Dangers for hatchlings
What are they and where do they live
Sea turtles are large air-breathing reptiles remarkably adapted
to life in the sea. They live in all but the coldest of the world's
oceans, but nest only in tropical and subtropical beaches where
it is warm enough to incubate their eggs.
All sea turtles are protected by federal and state laws.
This topic explains what you can do to protect sea turtles and
that let you know
you can help.
Florida is an important nest area
Of the 8 species of sea turtles worldwide, 5 are found in Florida.
Sea turtles deposit from 40,000 to 70,000 nests in Florida annually,
making this the most important nesting area in the U.S. Sea turtles
most commonly seen in Florida are loggerheads, greens and leatherbacks.
Adapting to life at sea
Sea turtles have a low streamline shell and powerful, oversized
front limbs-adaptations that enable them to swim for great distances.
They have no teeth but use their jaws to crush and tear food.
Size and weight
The smallest sea turtle, the Ridley, weighs 75-100 pounds when
mature, while adults of the largest species, the leatherback, can
weigh almost 1,300 pounds and may be 8 feet in length.
The females nesting process
Sea turtles spend most of their day feeding or sleeping under reef
ledges or in the open ocean. Some travel hundreds or thousands of
miles to feed or nest. Females lay their eggs on sandy beaches and
are slow and awkward on land. A female will usually lay several
nests during 1 season and may nest every 2 to 3 years. The difficult
process of nesting takes up to 3 hours. A turtle must drag her great
weight ashore, dig a nest with her back flippers, deposit about
100 eggs, and cover and conceal the nest before returning to the
sea. The eggs must incubate in the warm sand and the female never
visits her nest again.
Hatching and maturing
After incubating for about 2 months, the 2-inch long turtles hatch,
erupt as a group from their nest in the cool of the night, and scurry
down the beach to the sea. Many hatchlings swim offshore to live
for several years in floating seaweed drifting along the edges of
the ocean currents. Eventually, the young turtles take up residence
in coastal waters.
Many years pass before the few hatchlings that survive reach maturity.
A sea turtle may live for 40 to 60 years or more.
Decline in population
Population of the past
Sea turtles once roamed the oceans by the millions, but over the
past few centuries the demand for sea turtle meat, eggs, shell,
leather and oil has greatly reduced their numbers.
Why population is declining
Populations continue to decline as habitat is lost and the trade
in sea turtle products continues. Every year, thousands of sea turtles
drown in shrimp trawls and other fishing gear and others die from
pollutants or from swallowing trash mistaken for food.
Dangers for hatchlings
Many hatchling sea turtles are disoriented by lights near beaches
and wander away from the ocean to be crushed by cars or stranded.
Concern for the plight of sea turtles is growing and people around
the world are working to protect them on nesting beaches and at
sea. The effects of mixing
turtles and lights can be hazardous.