Many years ago while visiting the Galapagos Islands I was elated when I sighted a Green Sea Turtle. Just a small head above the waves heading for shore…..time to mate and lay eggs. Sea turtle sittings were extremely rare. I was having the great privilege of viewing an emerald in the sea that might soon be lost.
Green Sea Turtles are named for the milky green color of their skin. The heart-shaped carapace, or upper shell can be shades of green or brown. The lower shell, the plastron, is a yellowish white. Looking at the turtle from below this color can be mistaken for the sky, from above the sea.
Growing up to five feet and weighing up to seven hundred pounds the Green Sea Turtle is a magnificent swimmer making long migrations between feeding and nesting areas. Strong paddle like flippers move them through the water as their tails work like a rudder. The male turtle has a longer tail than the female, one of the few differences between the genders. Green Sea Turtles are herbivores as adults eating sea grass and algae. As juveniles they are omnivores eating plants and invertebrates such as sea worms, crabs, jelly fish or sponges.
Living as long as eighty years the turtle becomes sexually mature between twenty and fifty years old. The males mate yearly, the females every two to four years. During the breeding season, late spring through summer, the turtles leave their eating area and migrate many miles to their nesting area, usually using the same beaches their mothers used. Mating takes place in the shallow coastal waters. The female will climb onto the beach and can lay several clutches of eggs. She digs holes with her flippers and deposits one to two hundred eggs, covers them with sand and returns to the sea. The eggs will hatch in about two months. The movement of the first hatchlings stimulates the lower eggs to hatch allowing all the fledglings to hatch at once and head for the sea. Gender is determined by temperature. The eggs closer to the center of the clutch, the warmer eggs, will most likely be female. The surrounding cooler eggs will be male. Amazingly the ratio of male to female is about the same.
The moment the hatchlings lift their heads out of the sand and race for the sea they are in danger. Nature poses the first obstacles, awaiting predators, such as seagulls, crabs, fish, among others lay in wait for a feast. Humans are next posing a wide array of obstacles. Green Sea Turtles are still killed for their meat and eggs. Boat propeller accidents can cause death, getting caught in fish nets causes drowning, nesting grounds are being destroyed, and light pollution are just a few dangers imposed by humans.
Is there something that can be done? Absolutely! Green Sea Turtles are protected by National, State, and International laws in addition to being on the Endangered List. Modifications to fishing gear are being made to avoid accidental capture of turtles and other sea creatures. Low pressure sodium lighting is being used along shore lines. Habitat areas are being protected and turtle populations monitored.
A new monitoring system is being used on Raine Island in Queensland, Australia one of the largest nesting sites in the world. What is this new system? Drones. Drones help scientists get accurate and efficient counts, monitor beach erosion and habitat loss. A drone driven successful project has been reshaping parts of the beach thus protecting breeding grounds.
It is gratifying to see so many professionals and volunteers helping the Green Sea Turtle re-establish itself. There is however another very powerful tool in the survival kit, EDUCATION. We must teach our children to value nature in all its forms, our lives depend on it. I am proud to say one of my former students is one of those educators. She practices nature conservation in her personal and professional life. Working in Florida she volunteered helping hatchlings find their way to the sea rather than the two story ranch on the beach with its lights on. She has taken this information into her first grade classroom with the following presentation. It is my hope her students will have futures as citizens teaching wildlife preservation.
This presentation is animated. I was not able to embed that into my presentation. Although it is difficult to see I wanted you to get the feeling of the presentation. You can try for yourself at: https://prezi.com/7loyzxsce0ns/sea-turtles/