Creature Feature: Myrtle the Sea Turtle

No need to travel to the Bay of Gurtle, To gaze upon the likes of a Sea Turtle, Look around the neck of a lover of the sea, Plated in gold or silver a turtle will be, Or perhaps on the shirt of a Phish-concert-goer, I’ve even seen one on the bumper of a trendy Land Rover, Not many know the secrets of these creatures, But I promise that this article will unlock their features.

I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it.

Moving along. This article is about some sea creatures that are very well commercialized, but not very well known. So let’s start with the basics. There are seven species of sea turtles in all, Leatherbacks, Greens, Kemp’s Ridleys, Olive Ridleys, Hawksbills, Loggerheads and Australian Flatbacks. The most commonly encountered of all these is the Green Turtle, often the subject of those tie-dyed tees I mentioned earlier. All sea turtles are reptiles and all of them breathe air. One notable difference between these children of the sea and their terrestrial cousins is that sea turtles are incapable of retracting their head or limbs inside their shells. Makes you divers think twice about sneaking up on them while their not looking, eh?

Sea turtles occur throughout temperate and tropical seas of the world. Every species migrates hundreds of miles between nesting and feeding grounds.

If you’ve ever been to the Hawaiian Islands, chances are that you’ve had an encounter with a Green Sea Turtle. Often times they hang out close to shore whether feeding or basking on the rocks. The average adult size of a Green Sea Turtle is between 36 and 43 inches and with a weight of 200 to 300 pounds. Green Turtles are named for the green color of their body fat rather than the color of their shells.

The largest sea turtle species is the Leatherback. If you’ve ever seen one in the water, they look like army tanks. These colossal critters attain proportions of 6 feet in length and weighs up to 1,300 pounds.

Kemp’s Ridley Turtles are the smallest and the most endangered of all the sea turtles. They reach a length of only 2 feet and weight of approximately 80 pounds. An identifying characteristic is their green-gray oval shells.

Hawksbill Turtles can be differentiated by the shield-like plates on their shells. This species of sea turtle is what inspired some of the latest trends in eyewear commonly referred to as "tortoise shell." If you ever chance upon one of these beaus, you will see the terrific swirls of color running throughout the shell. Hawksbills reach an average weight of 100 pounds.

Rightly so, Olive Ridley Turtles are named for their olive-colored shells. Their shells are somewhat of a heart-shape and can be easily recognized.

The reddish-brown markings of Loggerheads make them readily distinguishable. Their typical lengths are between 33 and 40 inches and weights are up to 400 pounds.

Australian Flatbacks are named for their characteristic "flat backs." That’s peculiar. They are endemic to the waters off the coasts of Australia and reach weights of up to 200 pounds and lengths up to 40 inches.

Because sea turtles are constantly moving and migrating, it is difficult to predict when and where to see a specific species. However, it is much easier to predict when sea turtle mothers will come ashore to lay their eggs. This is often common knowledge of locals in specific locals where sea turtles are return visitors.

Although not very much of the mating behavior is privy to scientists, nesting behavior is. The nesting behavior of all sea turtles is relatively similar and governed by the cycles of the moon. Close to the time of high tide, during the warmest temperatures of the year, females come ashore to lay their eggs. Although these critters are quite agile in their slippery element, once they come ashore, gravity takes over and they become about as graceful as a cow that’s been tipped. The process is slow getting ashore, but once they’ve chosen an adequate spot they begin to dig and then they lay their eggs.

Sea turtle eggs incubate for approximately 50 to 70 days. Once they hatch they then begin their perilous journey to the waves and on to the open ocean. Unfortunately, the survival rate is only 10 percent after the first year. Beaches crowded with hotels, birds, sharks and large fishes all contribute to this high mortality rate. This is not to mention poachers who dig up the eggs shortly after a female has laid them.

However, all is not lost, for once sea turtles have turned one year, it is more than likely that they will live for 50 or 70 more. These are the animals that give many divers and free-divers entertainment under the waves.