The month of March to October is considered the most amazing time of the year to learn and explore about sea turtles where hatchling season is in full swing at May all over the shoreline of Florida’s Atlantic coastline. About 90% of sea turtles which are marine mammals nesting in the United States takes place in the sunshine state. According to study, sea turtles nest at the Northern part of Florida produces “male turtles” while nesting at the Southern beaches hatches “female turtles.”
Before we begin with the life cycle of the sea turtle, I discuss first the classifications or seven species of sea turtles, which are marine reptiles that need to breathe air to survive. I find it highly important to discuss this to my little learner to give her ideas how each turtle differs from one another. I also give her a moment to watch a documentary video from National Geographic Sea Turtle 101. This video shows an insightful summary of facts about the sea turtles life at sea and at the shore. My little learner had a great time watching this. I highly recommend this short video clip to your little ones. Very educational indeed!
SEVEN CLASSIFICATION OF SEA TURTLES
GREEN SEA TURTLE chelonia mydas-Green sea turtles are an endangered species around the world, but they still nest in increasing numbers on the east coast of Florida. The green sea turtle was listed in the United States under the Endangered Species Act as endangered in 1978. The largest nesting site in the Western Hemisphere is at Tortuguero in Costa Rica. Green sea turtles have a single pair of prefrontal scales, rather than two pairs as found on other sea turtles. Head is small and blunt with a serrated jaw. Carapace is bony without ridges and has large, non-overlapping, scales present with only 4 lateral scutes. Body is nearly oval and is more flattened compared to Pacific green turtles. All flippers have one visible claw. The carapace color varies from pale to very dark green and plain to very brilliant yellow, brown and green tones with radiating stripes. The plastron varies from white, dirty white or yellowish in the Atlantic populations to dark grey-bluish-green in the Pacific populations. Hatchlings are dark-brown or nearly black with a white underneath and white flipper margins.
LEATHERBACK dermochelys coriacera– Leatherback grows the largest, dives the deepest, and travels the farthest of all sea turtles. The leatherback was listed in the United States under the Endangered Species Act as endangered in 1970. Populations have declined in Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Trinidad, Tobago, and Papua New Guniea. Leatherbacks are seriously declining at all major nesting beaches throughout the Pacific. The decline is dramatic along the Pacific coasts of Mexico and Costa Rica and coastal Malaysia. In contrast, there has been a recent increase in leatherback nesting on the central and south eastern coast of Florida.
LOGGERHEAD caretta caretta– Named for it’s exceptionally large head with heavy strong jaws. Carapace is bony without ridges and has large, non-overlapping, rough scutes (scales) present with 5 lateral scute. Carapace is heart shaped. Front flippers are short and thick with 2 claws, while the rear flippers can have two or three claws. Carapace is a reddish-brown with a yellowish-brown plastron. Hatchlings have a dark-brown carapace with flippers pale brown on margins. Primarily carnivorous and feed mostly on shellfish that live on the bottom of the ocean. They eat horseshoe crabs, clams, mussels, and other invertebrates. Their powerful jaw muscles help them to easily crush the shellfish. Loggerhead is the most common sea turtles in the United States. Loggerhead populations in Honduras, Mexico, Colombia, Israel, Turkey, Bahamas, Cuba, Greece, Japan, and Panama have been declining. The majority of loggerhead nesting is concentrated in two main areas of the world- at Masirah Island, in the middle east and on the coast of the southeastern United States. The majority of nesting in the southeast U.S. takes place on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
HAWKSBILL eretmochelys imbricata– The hawksbill turtle’s status in the United States has not changed since it was listed under the Endangered Species Act as endangered in 1970. It is a solitary nester, and thus, population trends or estimates are difficult to determine. The decline of nesting populations is accepted by most researchers. In 1983, the only known apparently stable populations were in Yemen, northeastern Australia, the Red Sea, and Oman. Although they are found in U.S. waters, they rarely nest in North America. While hawksbills nest on beaches throughout the Caribbean, they are no longer found anywhere in large numbers.
KEMP’S RIDLEY lepidochelys kepii– Kemp’s ridley is the most endangered of all sea turtles and was listed in the United States under the Endangered Species Act as endangered throughout its range in 1970. The only major breeding site of the Kemp’s ridley is on a small strip of beach at Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. Kemp’s ridleys nest in mass synchronized nestings called arribadas (Spanish term for “arrival”). The arribada of Kemp’s ridleys occurs at regular intervals between April and June. In 1942, a Mexican architect filmed an estimated 42,000 ridleys nesting at Rancho Nuevo in one day. During 1995, only 1,429 ridley nests were laid at Rancho Nuevo. Recent good news! the nesting at Rancho Nuevo seems to be increasing with over 7,100 nests recorded in 2004! The increase can be attributed to two primary factors: full protection of nesting females and their nests in Mexico, and the requirement to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in shrimp trawls both in the U.S. and Mexican waters.
OLIVE RIDLEY lepidochelys olivacea– The western North Atlantic (Surinam and adjacent areas) nesting population has declined more than 80 percent since 1967. Declines are also documented for Playa Nancite, Costa Rica, however other nesting populations along the Pacific coast of Mexico and Costa Rica appear stable or increasing. In the Indian Ocean, Gahirmatha located in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, India, supports perhaps the largest nesting population with an average of 398,000 females nesting in a given year. This population continues to be threatened by nearshore trawl fisheries. It is very oceanic in the Eastern Pacific and probably elsewhere too. Large arribadas of olive ridleys still occur in Pacific Costa Rica, primarily at Nancite and Ostional and Pacific Mexico at La Escobilla, Oaxaca.
FLATBACK natator depressa– Australian flatbacks are medium size turtles that inhabit coastal coral reef and grassy shallows and is only found in the northern coastal area of Australia and the Gulf of Papua, New Guinea. The shell is very smooth and waxy, and can be easily damaged.
Look, we only have seven species of sea turtle all over the world and there are no actual number of overall populations of sea turtles. This means, once they become extinct we no longer have sea turtles for the next generation of learners just like dinosaurs and mammoth that are forever gone.
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To further our study, let’s explore the Life Cycle of the Sea Turtle. This presentation was created with the aim of providing a fun filled facts and proper care of sea turtles to my four year old learner. She also share how she created the sea turtle small world by presenting each life cycle on a tray.
SEA TURTLE LIFE CYCLE
Eggs are laid- A female sea turtle leaves the ocean to nest on a beach every two to three years. She then find a safe spot to dig a deep nest in the sand where about 100 to 150 eggs are laid. Once filled with eggs, the nest called a clutch. Below are photo collage of my daughter creating a nesting place for the sea turtle. Scooping some white kinetic sands into the tray then she carefully place the sea turtle on top of the eggs representing the process of laying her eggs.
A clutch is incubated- After the eggs are laid and covered with sand, the mother walks away from the nest forever. A clutch is incubated in the nest for about 60 days. Audrey cover the eggs with the kinetic sands and some shells to hide the clutch and safe from predators.
Egg hatch- Finally, the egg hatch. Hatchlings use a temporary tooth called carbuncle, to break their shell. It takes several days to dig their way through the sand to the surface.
Hatchlings find water- Once they emerge from the nest, the hatchlings find water. The journey from the nest to the beach is a real challenge. They are under threat of predators like birds, snakes, dogs, crabs and even human. Once they reach the water they will swim continuously or they call it “swim frenzy.”
Adult sea turtle- Once they make it to the water, the turtles dive below the waves and ride the underflow out to sea. For the next 24 to 48 hours they work hard to descend to the depths of the ocean where they will continue to grow for decades into adult sea turtles.
In the state where I live, there are a lot of programs that help raise awareness to protect our sea turtles all over the world; like sea turtle educational program, ecotourism, fundraising, conservation, volunteer jobs, trips and expeditions. You can always help in any ways by following the lists below when visiting the beach. To keep and preserve our dear turtles here are doable actions to practice when you visit the beach anywhere you go.
What You Can Do To Protect Sea Turtles During Nesting Season
- Watch from a distance of at least 30 feet when you see a turtle crawling to or from the ocean or laying eggs.
- Avoid shining lights on the beach at night. Turtles are sensitive to bright lights and human presence that can frighten away nesting females and it will interfere with the hatchlings ability to find the sea. Instead use red lights only.
- Avoid walking or cycling in nesting areas and on the beach dunes.
- Report injured or dead sea turtles to any beach or county staff and employee.
- Do not disturb markers or protective screening over turtle nests. These nests are being studied and protected.
- Do not disturb nesting sea birds.
- Pick up your litter. Cigarettes butts, fishing line and other trash can harm animals and birds along the beach.
- Wear dark clothing when visiting the beaches at night. Follow the conservation guides or professionals when visiting the beach for sea turtle walk.
- Pay your respect to mother turtles. They produces the next generation of the worlds sea turtles.