The turtle is one of the most ancient species alive, they have been living on earth for about 120 million of years. Three different types can be distinguished in the turtle family; the turtle, tortoise and terrapin. The turtle lives in water, the tortoise on land and the terrapin in water and land. These are the seven types of the turtle or sea turtle: the Loggerhead, the Green turtle, the Leatherback, the Hawksbill, the Kemp’s ridley, the Olive ridley and the Flatback.
Most of these turtles are listed as an endangered species. Specifically the Green turtle, Hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley, with the last two critically endangered. The other four are listed as vulnerable. The most threats are being caused by humans because of sea pollution, bycatch (they get caught in fishing nets) and in addition they’re being killed for their meat or skin for personal consumption and commercial purposes.
Infographic on endangered sea turtles:
The nesting of turtles is a fragile process, females are very sensitive to disturbance which could prevent them from nesting.
Females nest mostly at night during the warmest months of the year on tropical beaches, except for the leatherback, which nests in fall and winter.
In Panama they come from June to September.
Female turtles return to the beach, where they once were born to nest. They lay 50-150 eggs and the nesting process can take up to one hour or more. After nesting they will cover the eggs with sand, return to the sea and never come back. The hatchlings will have to be independent from birth. Females nest every two to three years.
The temperature of the sand determines the gender of the turtle. Cold sand will produce more male turtles and warm sand more females.
After 45-70 days the eggs begin to crack and the baby turtles will start to make their way to the water. They find their way via the slope of the beach, the white crests of the waves, and the reflection of the moonlight on the water.
Only 1 out of a 1000 hatchlings will make it to an adult turtle, as they are very vulnerable to predators. On their way to the sea they can be eaten by foxes, raccoons and birds. The danger does not stop once they’re in the water, as new predators rise. They will spend a lot of time hiding in safe places.
Conservation efforts are needed in order for the turtles to survive. In Panama there are several conservation projects to protect the eggs and nesting areas and restore their population and habitat. Most of the turtles visit the beaches in the Bocas del Toro province and the Azuero Peninsula to lay their eggs. Other efforts being made in protecting the turtles are creating awareness among the local communities about the threats the sea turtles are facing.
What can we as an individual do?
- Volunteer at a turtle conservation
- Don’t pollute the sea or beaches. Try picking litter or organize a beach clean-up.
Turtles mistake plastic for jelly fish and hundreds of thousands die from plastic ingestion and sea pollution.
- No flash lights or photos when you see turtles nesting. Flash lights are disturbing and can be harmful
- Don’t make fires on a nesting beach
- Keep dogs on a leash when walking on a nesting beach.
- Don’t buy turtle shell/skin souvenirs
- Purchase sustainable seafood
- Create awareness
A lot of local beach cleanup initiatives are being implemented locally. You can always find information on Facebook or Twitter for beach clean-ups in your area. Join them and contribute in keeping these animals alive.