Why Sea Turtles Are the Most Amazing Creatures
*UPDATED JULY 2019
In honor of sea turtle nesting and hatching season, which runs from May through October on Topsail Island and all of coastal North Carolina, we're taking a few moments to learn more about these incredibly cute and utterly amazing aquatic reptiles. They really are quite fascinating on so many levels. We encourage you to learn more about them during your beach vacation.
Don't forget that the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is open for the season and it's not far from your Topsail rental. It's the perfect time to get up-close-and-personal with the current residents and makes for a wonderful educational field trip for the kids. You'll be so glad you did.
For now, let's dive into some truly awesome facts about sea turtles. How many of these do you know?
Sea Turtle SnacksLeatherback and Hawksbill sea turtles love to eat jellyfish. Apparently they're quite tasty. Please pick up any plastic bags (or any trash for that matter) that you see floating around in the water, as they are commonly mistakenly for jellyfish by the sea turtles and way too many die from ingesting them. Green sea turtles enjoy a more plant-based diet. They mow down sea grass like nobody's business, giving them the reputation as the lawnmowers of the sea. In their doing so, they actually help keep sea grass in check so it doesn't become an obstacle for other marine creatures.
Sea Turtles Go Way BackSea turtles are one of the oldest species to inhabit planet Earth. Their existence has been traced back to the time of the dinosaurs. The seven species of sea turtles are one of this planet's most ancient creatures, so we definitely need to do all we can to protect them. Worldwide, six of the seven species of sea turtles are considered threatened or endangered and most of it is due to human action and lifestyle, sadly.
Sea Turtles Are World TravelersSea turtles can swim thousands of miles in their lifetime with ease. Sea turtles are found in all warm and temperate waters throughout the world and migrate hundreds of miles between nesting and feeding grounds. Most sea turtles undergo long migrations, some as far as 1400 miles, between their feeding grounds and the beaches where they nest. What's even more amazing is that female sea turtles return to their beach of birth to lay their eggs. Home is where the heart is... or in this case, where the nest is.
Life at Sea
From their streamlined flippers to their flat shells, sea turtles were born to swim. They are amazing at it, really. Not only do they swim for miles and do it well, they can also stay underwater for long periods of time. In fact, green sea turtles can stay under water for as long as five hours (five hours!) even though the length of a feeding dive is usually five minutes or less. Their heart rate slows to conserve oxygen and nine minutes may elapse between heartbeats. Truly incredible! Since they don’t have to protect themselves from predators for most of their life on water, sea turtles cannot retract their flippers and head into their shells. Their anatomy makes them more agile when under the sea but highly vulnerable when nesting and hatching.
Sea turtles have an inherently excellent sense of direction. They are able to detect the Earth's magnetic field and use it as a compass. How do we know this? Scientists generated magnetic fields in the lab and demonstrated that sea turtles have the ability to detect the Earth's magnetic field and use it as an orientation cue.
Long Live the Sea Turtle
Gender Is Determined by What?The temperature of the sea turtle nest and the surrounding sand determines the sex of the sea turtle. Warmer nests lead to more females and cooler ones lead to more males—which is why climate change could drastically affect their populations by creating too many females and too few males to match them for reproduction. Temperatures below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30ºC) result in predominately male; above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30ºC) result in predominately female.
World Sea Turtle DayWorld Sea Turtle Day is coming up on June 16, but we think every day should be sea turtle day on our beaches and along our shorelines. With a little awareness and a lot of proactive thinking and action, we can all help sea turtles not only survive but also thrive.
Here are a few quick tips for things you can do right now to protect the Topsail sea turtle population:
- Turn off lights on the beach. Please do not use flashlights, cameras with flash, and other artificial light sources. They are a source of confusion for nesting and hatching sea turtles and can lead them away from the natural light they use to help them navigate back to sea. If you are staying in a Topsail oceanfront rental, please turn off all outdoor lights and close the blinds inside to reduce the amount of light emitted from indoors.
- Clean up after a day at the beach. Don't leave beach chairs, toys and other beach paraphernalia out on the beach. They can become obstacles to nesting and hatching sea turtles. Fill in any holes you've dug and pick up any trash or litter, whether it's yours or someone else's. Fishing line and netting can also be deadly, so if you see any of it laying around on the beach or in the water, please pick it up and properly discard of it.
- Keep a safe distance from sea turtle nest, eggs and hatchlings. This is not for your safety, but for theirs! Sea turtles need to be left undisturbed as much as possible during this crucial time in their lifecycle. There are already a lot of impediments and distractions for them, so please don't be one yourself. Keep dogs and kids away from marked and unmarked nests, as they can disturb nests unintentionally.
- Report sea turtle activity to local monitoring and protection services. From injured sea turtles to newly laid clutches of eggs, there are many volunteers who actively work to mark, monitor and assist sea turtles in any way that positively impacts their survival. For more information on Topsail Island Sea Turtle Protection services, follow the link.
We found these sea turtle resources to be helpful in the writing of this blog. Check them out for more amazing facts about these fascinating creatures!
share these sea turtle facts with your friends!
You can read more about our local efforts during sea turtle season in Topsail, NC.