Imagine a world without sea turtles. It would certainly be a less interesting place. The sea turtle is amazing, but it is also endangered. In fact, researchers estimate that only 85,000 of these aquatic animals are alive today.
Sea turtles weigh 300 to 400 pounds and are seaweed and seagrass-eating herbivores. They are found on the coastlines of more than 80 countries and migrate long distances to feed. In fact, sea turtles often cross entire oceans to find nourishment.
Sea turtles spend their whole lives at sea, except for females, who go ashore to lay eggs. Adult females lay about 110 eggs every two to five years. It takes the eggs 60 days to hatch once laid.
Important to ecosystems, all seven species of sea turtle help control the health of seagrass and coral reefs by grazing. They also benefit valuable species like shrimp and lobster by helping to balance food webs.
The dorsal shell of the green sea turtle—one species of sea turtle—is wide, smooth, and brownish-olive in color, while its underside is yellow. Green sea turtles are named for the hue of their skin. When first born, they are dark brown or black. They are unique because they have heads that cannot retract into their bodies, which is a common ability most turtles have.
There are many reasons sea turtles are endangered, including illegal hunting of the species, building in their habitats, warmer global temperatures, and the infiltration of their habitats by trash. Sea turtles are killed for their eggs and meat, and for medicine and religious ceremonies. Moreover, sea turtles rely on beaches for nesting, but uncontrolled development, vehicle traffic, and other human activity has wrecked their nesting areas. Warmer sea surface temperatures further leads to the loss of necessary foraging grounds, increases severe storms, and raises the sea level, which in turn destroys both nesting beaches and nests. Furthermore, thousands of turtles are accidentally trapped in shrimp trawl nets, on longline hooks, and in fishing gill nets every year.
Clearly, sea turtles are endangered for a variety of factors, but people can help them by not purchasing products made from this species and by not throwing cans and plastic into or near oceans. Also, those who live in areas where sea turtles nest can lead community efforts to protect the nearby beaches. With hard work and dedication, researchers believe this amazing animal could one day be strong in numbers, as it once was.
[Sources: worldwildlife.org; seaturtles.org; animalfactguide.com]