Sea Turtles

Creatures of the Caribbean – Sea Turtles

Article by Jimmy Bean

Sea turtles are extraordinary creatures. They can live as long as humans do, easily reaching a lifespan of 80 years or more. Though they breathe air, sea turtles can stay submerged for long periods of time. If they need to go back under the water quickly, they have the ability to fill their lungs quickly by an almost explosive inhalation of air once their heads are above water. Their lungs are also specially designed not to trap gasses that could hinder deep diving.

Part of what endears sea turtles to humans is the vulnerability of the eggs the sea turtles lay. While these marine reptiles spend most of their lives in the water, the females must make their way onto the beaches to deposit their eggs into holes they dig in the sand. The turtle does her best to hide her future offspring. She usually emerges from the water at night, burying her eggs, some 50 to 200 of them, the number varying by species, and then covering them carefully to disguise the nest. She then returns to her watery home, leaving her eggs unguarded.

The eggs must incubate in the sand for a period of around two months. Interestingly, the temperature of the sand helps determine the gender of the hatchlings. If the temperature of the sand is higher, there will be more female hatchlings. Lower temperatures result in more male turtles. Once the eggs begin to hatch, which usually happens at night as this provides protection from predators, they must make their way into the ocean. The hatchlings, usually only a couple of inches long, head quickly for the water. Only a fraction of the eggs in a nest result in live turtles in the ocean because so many other animals like to eat baby sea turtles as they make their dangerous journey from the nest to the water.

If the turtles manage to survive until adulthood, they will grow into truly magnificent animals. While the final size depends upon the species, an adult sea turtle often weighs as much as 250 to 500 pounds and can be up to three feet long. Sea turtles are not just amazing to look at, but are an important part of the ocean’s ecosystem. One of their most important functions is to eat sea grass. Sea turtles, one of the few animals to eat sea grass, help keep it short which allows it to spread more easily. They also help keep the sea grass beds healthy.

In the past, sea turtles have often been considered a gourmet delicacy. The shells and skin were also used for clothing and decorative ornaments. However, as the number of sea turtles of nearly all species has decreased to dangerously low numbers in recent years, most countries have passed laws to protect them as endangered species. Many organizations help educate the public about how to treat turtles or eggs if they are found so as not to endanger them further. Advancements in the fishing industry have provided ways to keep from inadvertently harming sea turtles as they gather fish. More still needs to be done, but steps are being made to preserve these magnificent creatures for the next generation.

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