Turtles – beautiful, majestic animals of our seas and oceans.
Turtles are characterised by a special bony shell comprised of plate like scales that has developed over time from their ribs. The shell serves to protect the turtle, acting as a shield. There are freshwater and sea dwelling turtles. Amongst the sea turtles there are 7 species; the largest being the Leatherback which can grow to 2 meters long and weigh up to 185 kilos. Turtles are cold blooded and like warm water which is shallow enough to allow sea grass to grow – their favourite food. Whilst the fully grown turtles eat only plant material, hatchlings will eat small animals as well as algae. Turtles migrate large distances in order to feed and they must then retrace their path in order to return to the beach where they themselves hatched to have their own young. Turtles left in peace in their traditional habitat will live up to 40 to 50 years of age.
Turtles are one of the many species of our planet badly affected by the multitude of plastics found in our oceans and waterways. They mistake the plastic as sea grass or algae and try to eat it as well as becoming entangled in it.
Here a turtle has had to grow within the plastic wrapped around its body.
A turtle trying to eat plastic mistaking it for sea grass.
Mating takes place on the surface and a few days later, under the cover of darkness the female will work her way up the beach, using her flippers, to lay her clutch of around 100 eggs. The eggs are hard shelled and about the size of a table tennis ball.
A mother digging down into the sand to lay her eggs. Of 100 eggs it is likely that only 1 or 2 will reach maturity. (Photo thanks to Florida Fish & Wildlife)
The female will lay several batches of eggs over the coming weeks and 2 to 3 months later the eggs hatch. When all the eggs have hatched the tiny, baby turtles dig their way out of the hole and then hurry down to the sea. Scientists believe they are guided by the light of the moon on the sea.
Out of over 100 eggs it is believed that only one or two hatchlings will make it to maturity. The sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature at which they incubate. At 32 °C the sex is 1:1, and at 28°C all the hatchlings will be male.
A hatchling scuttling its way to the relative safety of the sea.
Turtles are another of the endangered animals on our planet. They are killed for their flesh and their shells are used for ornaments and jewellery. The eggs are a source of food for humans and for other predators and then of course, as you can see from the photos above, the pollution and plastics in the oceans are seriously threatening the life of these beautiful creatures. Hopefully with the help of conservationists like David Attenborough along with the interest of the media and Governments, not to mention the help and enthusiasm of so many hard working individuals and societies around the world, matters will improve and our beautiful turtle will have a future amongst us all.
IDEAS & THOUGHTS
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