In Florida, summer marks the beginning of an ancient reproductive ritual. Female sea turtles leave the sea and make their way ashore. They use their rear flippers to dig a hole in the sand, wherein they deposit dozens of eggs. When egg laying is complete, the mother turtles cover the eggs, camouflage the nest, and return to the water.
The temperature of the sea turtle nest determines the sex of the hatchlings. Warmer temperatures produce more females, whereas cooler temperatures result in more males. After incubating for about two months, the eggs begin to hatch, and the baby sea turtles crawl into the ocean.
Five species of sea turtle are found in Florida: loggerhead, green turtle, leatherback, hawksbill, and Kemp’s ridley.
●The loggerhead (Caretta caretta) is the most common sea turtle found in our state. It uses its powerful jaws to crush the clams, crabs, and other armored animals it eats.
●Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) are herbivores, consuming principally seagrasses and algae. Hundreds of green turtles nest on Florida’s beaches each year.
●The leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) is covered with a firm, leathery skin and has seven ridges running lengthwise down its back. It preys on jellyfish and other soft-bodied animals.
●The hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is named for its raptor-like jaws, which are perfectly adapted for collecting sponges, the hawksbill’s meal of choice.
●The Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) is the rarest, most endangered sea turtle in the world. It has only one major nesting beach: an area called Rancho Nuevo on the Gulf coast of Mexico.
Sea turtles face an uncertain future. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List—the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of various species—presently classifies Kemp’s ridley and hawksbill sea turtles as “critically endangered.” The loggerhead is “endangered,” and the green and leatherback sea turtles are considered “vulnerable.”
The many threats to sea turtle survival include encroachment of coastal development on their nesting beaches, encounters with pollutants and marine debris, accidental drownings in fishing gear, and international trade in turtle meat and products.
“Anyone spending time on Florida’s beaches can do something to help save Florida’s threatened and endangered sea turtles,” says Dr. Robbin Trindell, who leads the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s sea turtle management program. Our actions on the beach have a profound impact on whether our sea turtles nest successfully. Here are some ways to help.
• ●Participate in beach cleanups.
• ●Do not dispose of plastic bags or trash in the ocean.
• ●Refrain from walking on the beach at night during the summer months.
• ●Avoid shining bright lights onto the beach.
• ●Stay clear of marked sea turtle nests.
• ●Report illegal activities that can harm sea turtles.
To learn more about sea turtles, visit one of the captive sea turtle facilities or join an evening lecture followed by a live sea turtle release. With over 650 miles of beaches in the state of Florida, surely we can find a way to share our sandy shores with these enthralling creatures.
Leopoldo Llinas is a forward-thinking father who hopes to educate the young men and woman who will make this world a better place. He holds a PhD in Marine Biology and Fisheries from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. firstname.lastname@example.org