Sea Turtles

Green sea turtle

From leatherbacks to loggerheads, seven species of sea turtles swim the world's oceans—with the exception of the Australian flatback, all are listed as threatened or endangered. Sadly, they face many dangers as they travel the seas—like getting caught in fishing gear meant for other animals, the loss of nesting and feeding sites, directed hunting and pollution.

Air-breathing reptiles, sea turtles are well-adapted to their marine environment. Their size varies greatly, depending upon species—from the small Kemp's ridley, which weighs between 80-100 pounds, to the enormous leatherback, which often weighs more than 1,000 pounds.

Habitat & Diet

Sea turtles spend their entire lives at sea, except when females come ashore to lay eggs several times per season every 2-5 years. After about sixty days of incubation, the hatchlings emerge from their sandy nests and make their way to the ocean—attracted to the distant horizon. They spend their first few years in the open oceans, eventually moving to protected bays, estuaries and other near shore waters.

Each species relies on a different diet: green turtles eat sea grasses; leatherbacks feed on jellyfish and soft-bodied animals; loggerheads eat heavy-shelled animals such as crabs and clams; hawksbills rely on sponges and other invertebrates; and the Kemp's ridley prefers crabs.

Threats to Sea Turtles

These ancient creatures have been on Earth for more than 100 million years—even surviving when the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago. But now they are on the brink of extinction. Six of the seven species are listed as endangered or threatened and are protected under the Endangered Species Act in the United States.

Among the threats these marine reptiles face are entanglement, habitat loss and hunting. Sea turtles are drowned and killed when caught in fishing gear. Coastal development destroys important nesting sites—and artificial light from houses and other buildings attracts hatchlings away from the ocean, rather than toward it. Pollution like plastic bags is often mistaken for food, such as jellyfish, and ingested, blocking their intestines and potentially killing them. In some countries, sea turtles are hunted for their meat and shell.

Content With A Conscience

How You Can Help

Don't litter: Trash thrown on the ground often finds its way to the sea even if it wasn't discarded on the beach. Sea turtles may become fatally entangled and often mistake litter for food, causing fatal health problems. Educate others on the dangers of littering.

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