A recent video of hatching sea turtles illustrates the success of conservation efforts. The July 25 video of baby sea turtles crawling out of their nest and heading to the Atlantic Ocean in the Florida Keys is fascinating Americans. Approximately 100 Loggerhead hatchlings were caught on the live-feed by the Florida Keys Turtle Cam using infrared light and high definition video. The camera had been trained on the turtle nest for two weeks waiting for the babies to emerge.
Prominent in the video is a “Do Not Disturb” sign marking the turtle nest with information on the U.S. and Florida statutes that protect sea turtles along with the threat of fines and imprisonment for meddling with the eggs. Loggerhead, Green, Kemp’s Ridley, Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles are all on the United States threatened or endangered species lists. Although sea turtles spend their long lives swimming in the oceans, they must lay eggs in warm tropical sands – the same kinds of places where people like to vacation. A huge problem in the U.S. is that too many houses and businesses create too much artificial light at the coasts which confuses baby sea turtles. The hatchlings use moonlight reflecting off of the water to help find their way to the ocean. A dark beach makes the sea turtles more comfortable and keeps them safer from predators. The arduous, if short, journey from the nest to the sea is the first challenge of a sea turtle’s life. Many do not complete the trip and in the past human interference has been one of the causes. Now people are becoming more knowledgeable about sea turtles and taking steps to ensure both mothers laying eggs and babies hatching from them have a better chance of survival.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are very active in trying to protect sea turtles and approved the webcam as a way to interest and educate the public. The turtles are also championed by many nonprofit groups such as Save-The-Turtles, the Sea Turtle Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, and The National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation. The main goal of these groups is to form a partnership between humans and sea turtles so that people are helping rather than inadvertently harming these magnificent creatures. Turtle numbers, once in the hundreds of millions, have declined due to people harvesting them for their meat, shells, oil, leather and eggs. Some drown when tangled in shrimp trawls or fishing gear. Others die from ingesting plastic bags, balloons, or getting stuck in plastic packaging such as that which holds six-packs together. The plastic resembles the jellyfish on which they commonly dine. Still more lose their lives to pollution and destruction of habitat. Humans have been responsible for much of the decrease in turtle numbers, but now people are trying to assist turtles to repopulate the seas.
The ancestors of modern sea turtles probably walked the earth over 245 million years ago just as dinosaurs were evolving. As they developed, the reptiles moved between the water and the land searching for sustainable food sources. About 120 million years ago they took predominantly to the oceans as the amazing swimmers they are today. Sea turtles can cover thousands of miles in one year and dive thousands of feet deep. Leatherback turtles are the largest at eight feet and also the most adventurous. They travel farther and deeper than other turtles, covering vast tracts of ocean. The smallest sea turtle, and also the most endangered, is the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle which only nests on a small stretch of beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The Hawksbill sea turtle is known for its unique nose and, unfortunately, its beautiful shell which is prized by fishermen. Very few return to Florida to lay eggs. The Loggerhead sea turtle is the most common on U.S. beaches. Its large head and jaws are used to chomp tasty crustaceans and clams. The Green sea turtle with its wonderful coloring prefers the grasses of the Sargasso Sea and is generally the one seen most often in photographs.
Sea turtles can live 40 to 60 years or even more. However, their reproductive cycle is not quick. Adult females travel long distances to reach the beaches where they lay their eggs every two to three years. It may take her three hours to haul her weight up the beach, dig a hole, and deposit 100-200 eggs. The sand must be warm enough to incubate the eggs as once she covers them up again her job of mothering is complete. The temperature of the nest is doubly important because it determines the sex of the turtles in the eggs. Generally the lower, cooler eggs become male and the upper, warmer eggs become female. For two months the nest is in danger of being uncovered by predators or trampled. Only one in 1000 baby sea turtles will survive until adulthood. It takes more than two decades for sea turtles to reach gender identity and sexual maturity and begin to reproduce.
The video of the hatching sea turtles is spreading across the internet and has gone viral on social media. This nest of Loggerheads survived incubation and all the babies seemed well on their way to the ocean. The beach was dark enough that they were able to make a beeline straight for the water. People are happy to think of 100 more tiny turtles swimming in the Atlantic. People are trying to mitigate threats to adult turtles also. Newer fishing equipment is less likely to entangle turtles than the older nets. Laws prohibit hunting sea turtles for their various parts. Many tourist beaches are focusing more on eco-tourism than selling sea turtle products for profits. The video of hatching sea turtles illustrates the great success of conservation efforts.
The news this summer has been full of heart-warming stories of human-turtle interaction. Another sea turtle video to go viral this July was of a turtle thanking its rescuer after being cut from a piece of fishing net that had wrapped around its flipper. This week was the seventh annual Tour de Turtles release in Florida. Various types of turtles are equipped with transmitters that allow scientists and fans to track the turtles on their epic swims and discover where they go and what they eat. In April a number of rescued turtles were returned to the ocean by the New England Aquarium Rescue. A Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle found in November near Maine suffering from pneumonia caused by cold water conditions was released off Assateague on July 26. The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in North Carolina treats all sorts of injuries and by this July has released over 400 turtles. Humans are now the sea turtles biggest champions.
Sea turtles are not out of danger but the drastic and rapid decline in numbers of the 2000s seems to be reversing. Education programs to build awareness along with public and government funding have created successful programs to protect the sea turtles. July’s video of hatching sea turtles illustrates this success and shows how conservation efforts can make a difference. Long the problem, humans are now finding ways to be the solution. Watch the video below.
By: Rebecca Savastio