Flatback Sea Turtle
Are named after the fact that they shell is only slightly curved. Flatbacks have the narrowest niche distribution out of all the sea turtles. They live in shallow waters in between Australia and New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean rim, reaching as far south as the Great Barrier Reef. Once they reach adulthood, they are largely carnivorous, feeding on fish and bottom dwelling animals such as mollusks and tunicates! They reach an average of 1 -1.2m in length and weigh up to around 85 – 90kg.
Despite so narrowly distributed the adult of the Flatback species can travel over 1000 km to reach nesting beaches! Females routinely dig about 3 nests each time they attempt to breed and lay a total of around 150-180 eggs! The young turtles feed on surface plankton but instead of heading into the deep ocean once hatched, like the young of other sea turtle species, Flatback Sea Turtles remain in the shallows basking in the sun!
Threats to Flatback Turtles
It has been illegal to hunt to intentionally kill the Flatback Sea Turtle this species of sea turtle is facing amazing environmental stresses from pollution and destruction of their habitat. They also face natural threats such as salt water crocodiles, wild dogs, foxes, rodents and other animals that feed on their eggs and hatchlings such as sea birds!
The flatback is listed as “data deficient” on the IUCN Red List because there isn’t enough data about its status and population so no further classification is currently necessary.
Flatback Sea Turtle Distribution Map
Green Sea Turtle
Beautifully marked and streamlined to perfection the Green Sea Turtle is the most common turtle in tropical and subtropical waters. Often seen in poseidonia and eelgrass beds and of course on coral reefs. The colour of its shell varies from green to dark brown and the plate scales where they meet are always lighter giving these turtles a distinctive checkered shell pattern! They reach around 1m in length and weigh over 120kg!
Like all sea turtles, the front flippers are longer and broader and are used as wings while swimming! They are the main propulsion force while the rear smaller and slender flippers act as stabilizers! Young Green Sea Turtles are carnivorous, eating mollusks and other small animals while the adult of the species feed mainly on eelgrass and algae a diet that almost always keeps them close to the littoral zone, near the coast!
Breeding for the Green Sea Turtles takes place on isolated beaches to which they remain remarkably faithful throughout their lives. To reach these beaches some make journeys of more than 1000 km navigating their way to remote islands that may just be a few miles across! Some famous turtle beaches in Cyprus include the Lara and Tokseftra beaches on the Akamas Peninsula!
Mating occurs int eh shallows and the females then crawl ashore after dark to make their nests and lay their eggs! They may lay up to 200-250 eggs at a time, burying them usually beneath 75-100 cm of sand! The eggs then hatch within 6-8 weeks. All the young miraculously emerge simultaneously and make for the shoreline! Green Sea Turtles have been hunted for many years mainly for food and their numbers have declined a lot! Conservation efforts focus on securing birthing beaches, making it easier for hatchlings to make it to shore. and banning the hunt of these noble animals!
First Flips Into The World
Right after hatching, still underground buried in sand, the baby green sea turtles use their front flippers to dig themselves out of their nest! Once outside they sprint towards the sea trying to avoid being made into a ready meal by birds, crabs, snakes and ants! Almost nothing is known about the life of young green sea turtles since they are rarely observed in the wild but their simple dash of life after they are born illustrates perfectly how many dangers and predators they will face in their first months of life! They grow at an average of 5 kg per year!
Dangers & Threats
Across the entire planet, Green Sea Turtle populations have been declining steadily by almost 37% and some figures estimate a 70% decrease in populations compared to 140 years ago! Keeping in mind that the greatest danger is direct poaching of eggs and capture of nesting females or hunting the animals for meat shows how much we can still do to protect them. Fishing gear especially traps and trawls also pose a serious threat to the marine turtle species.
Green Sea Turtle Distribution Map
So called from its hawk looking beaked snout the hawksbill sea turtle has a shell with a raised, central keel and pointed shell plates around its rear margin. It lives in tropical or subtropical regions, feeding on sponges, mollusks and other small animals and rarely leaves the safety of shallow water or coral reefs! They grow to a length of 1m and weigh around 50 – 70kg.
The Hawksbill migrates less than the rest of the sea turtles and breeds at lower densities all over the tropics gathering again on specific beaches. Its sand tracks bear a characteristic gait forming diagonally opposite flipper pairs, while other turtles have a gait where the front flippers are always together. This is the same way they swim also!
These sea turtles have been marked as Critically Endangered by the IUCN due to the fact that they are the chief source of tortoiseshell! Also in the Asian markets animals are killed stuffed and sold. Attempts at farming hawksbill sea turtles have been unsuccessful!
Threats & Dangers
Listed as in danger of extinction on the Endangered Species Act, capturing or killing these sea turtles a major threat to the recovery of their numbers in the wild. Poachers kill them for their valuable shell made into hair clips, jewelry and art.
Trading in tortoiseshell legally stopped in 1994, Cuba has unfortunately pushed in recent years to reopen the market and a number of countries still allow it. Some but not all include small island nations which depend on the trade unfortunately. They include British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands! In the Dominican Republic & Jamaica the killing and poaching of eggs is illegal but products by tortoiseshell are still sold legally.
Killing of hawksbill still happens the world over for traditional medicine and for food. In the Pacific these reasons are the main threat for the hawksbill numbers to recover. Places such as American Samoa, Guam, Palau, Northern Mariana Islands, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands have poor legal frameworks to regulate the issue of sea turtles!
Hawksbill Sea Turtle Distribution Map
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
This gorgeous critter also known as the Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle, is the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle and is the smallest sea turtle is the world but also the most endangered largely due to the strange and unusual breeding behaviors it exhibits! Unlike its other cousins, this sea turtle lays its eggs during the day and females crawl out of the sea to lay at the same time during mass nesting events called arribadas (Spanish for “arrivals”). They grow to a length of 90cm and weigh in a mere 30 – 40kg.
Once upon a time, nestings would take place all across the habitat range of the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle but because they lay their eggs during the day, they were prey for human and natural predators!. Today most of these turtles breed on a single beach in Mexico where their nests are protected!
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles are also often caught by shrimp nets but certain devices called Turtle Excluding Devices fitted to nets have helped reduce this threat. Some weeks after the “arrivals” the young kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles emerge from their eggs in the thousands and take the perilous journey to the sea and its relative safety!
Adults of the species are carnivorous bottom-feeders mainly on crabs! They have a very wide shell and their small size makes them agile swimmers. Their shell changes colour with age. One-year-olds tend to be almost jade black, while adults are light green-gray. A close palette relative is the Olive Ridley Turtle which lives throughout the tropics and due to this fact is much less endangered than the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle!
Threats to Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles
While measures to protect these turtles from fishing and poaching hazards has been effective enough to increase the numbers of nesting females from hundreds to thousands Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles need protection! Major threats still persist in the form of fishing gear injuries, habitat destruction, expanding human population and global warming effects on sex ratios!
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Distribution Map
Leatherback Sea Turtle
The leatherback sea turtle is the biggest marine turtle in the world! Its shell is actually thick leather having no hard plates and has a tapered shape. The head is not retractable like other sea turtle species and this turtle is unique in that its flippers have no claws!!! Leatherback Sea Turtles reach an amazing 1.8m in length and weigh more than 800kg!
Leatherbacks spend most of their lives in the open sea returning to the coast for breeding purposes only. While mostly feeding on jellyfish and other planktonic animals near the surface it can dive to 1000 m depths! Breeding occurs mainly in the tropics on steep sloped sandy beaches laying nine bunches of eggs in each season!
Also unusually for a reptile, this leatherback sea turtle can keep its body temperature warmer than its surroundings mostly because of the thick insulating fat layer under its skin. This allows the leatherback sea turtle the ability to roam more widely than other turtles going as far north as Iceland and as far south as Cape Horn. An individual turtle can wander more than 6,000 km! One such turtle was tagged in South America only later to be spotted in Africa! Amazing!
These spines are found in the leatherback’s throat and comprise of dozens of backward facing spines which secure jellyfish from escaping before being completely swallowed. The down side to this amazing feeding mechanism is that once they hook onto say a plastic bag…the same mechanism that helps the turtle catch valuable prey also hooks onto the garbage plastic bad. Many turtles die after ingesting plastic bag material.
Threats & Dangers
Recent population estimates for the leatherback sea turtle place their numbers at around 20,000 adult turtles. That is 1/5 th the number estimates in 1980. There is such a severe decline that scientists believe that the next 30 years will see this species extinct in the Pacific Ocean unless massive action is taken to protect them quickly! Accidental injury in fishing gear, poaching of eggs and ingestion of plastics have all contributed to the species being in rapid decline of more than 80%! Some populations have been reported to have started to bounce back slowly.
Leatherback Sea Turtle Distribution Map
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
The Loggerhead is the second largest marine turtle after the Leatherback Sea Turtle! A blunt head, strong jaws and a steeply domed shell characterise these species! Using its strong jaw it hunts hard-shelled animals such as crabs, clams and lobsters! These turtles take more than 30 years to reach maturity and breed every other year. They grow to a length of 1m and weigh an average of 130 – 140kg!
Threats & Dangers to Loggerhead Sea Turtles
Currently listed as being under threat of extinction. Numbers are declining rapidly. Like other sea turtle species, Loggerhead Sea Turtles are in danger by many natural and man-made factors. Accidental injury in fishing nets and the destruction of their habitat by humans are the main threats to this species.
Thousands of Loggerhead Sea Turtles are injured each year by fishing gear that do not safeguard these noble animals. Data from the Atlantic populations show a rapid decline in population numbers. The largest decline in the past 10 years has been recorded in South Florida.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Distribution Map
*Distribution Maps courtesy of OCEANA