University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
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Sea Turtle Information

Sea turtles are reptiles that belong to the order Testudines.  Seven different species of sea turtle exist today.  Sea turtles have been around for at least 110 million years.  Unlike tortoises, the shell of a sea turtle is more streamlined for swimming through the water, and they cannot retract their legs or neck into their shell.  In addition, all four limbs are flippers.  They may appear yellow, green, or black depending on the species.  Diets vary by species with some being herbivorous, some omnivorous, and a few even carnivorous.  Different food choices include algae, seaweed, jellyfish, sponges, clams, and crabs.  Sea turtles may be found in the warmer tropical and subtropical oceans across the globe.  They’ll migrate sometimes as far as 1400 miles between their feeding grturtounds and nesting beaches.  They are solitary creatures for the most part.

After mating, sea turtles lay their eggs on beaches and return to the sea.  The hatchlings are on their own at birth and must make it to the ocean quickly if they are to survive.  The hatchlings are constant prey to scavenger birds as they make a mad dash across the beach to the ocean. The majority of a sea turtle’s life is spent in the ocean.  Sea turtles play a valuable role in the seagrass bed and coral reef ecosystems.  Different species play different roles in the food chain that help maintain healthy levels of stability for other species.  They are also a huge boon for tourism.  Many of these sea turtles are at the very least vulnerable if not endangered under both the Endangered Species Act and the IUCN Red List.  There are multiple threats to the species including overharvesting and illegal trade, bycatch, habitat loss, and climate change.

Humans will consume turtle meat to eat. They also will use it for religious and medicinal purposes.  The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has declared the trade of sea turtles and their parts illegal, but illegal trafficking is still an issue.  When it comes to fishing, sea turtles unfortunately get easily entangled in nets and may end up drowning if not recovered quickly.  Coastal development will ruin the beaches used as nesting grounds, while sedimentation and nutrient run-off will ruin the coral reefs and seagrass beds used as feeding grounds.  Increases in sea level rise and storm numbers due to climate change may destroy turtle nesting grounds.  Increasing temperatures also affect the sex of the offspring, resulting in fewer males.  For sea turtle hatchlings, an additional threat is lights from houses that may disorient newborns and cause them to move away from the ocean instead of towards it.  Pollution such as trash bags may entangle or be consumed by adult turtles in the ocean.