What Every Beachgoer Should Know About Sea Turtles

Although they are called sea turtles simply because of the fact that they live in the oceans for their entire life, the truth is that all sea turtles are lucky enough to be born as hatchlings (baby sea turtles) on the tropical or subtropical beach.

Once in two-three years, every female turtle will swim very long distances, crossing entire oceans just to return to the exact beach where she was born to nest. This tiny little sea turtle just a few days old is capable of memorizing the beach where was born to return after decades to nest on that same spot. She will crawl out of the water, usually at night, on the beach and move slowly with a help of her flippers making a few stopovers to rest on the way. When she finds that perfect spot in the sand, above the high tide line she’ll dig up a hole, and again with a help of her flippers, lay down her eggs in a form of a white ping pong balls, up to 100 or more. In the end, she’ll bury the hole with sand and return to the sea. This can take about an hour or so of her precious time.

It may sound like a lot of eggs and that the oceans are full of turtles. But, the truth is that from these eggs some of them won’t hatch at all and only very small percent will reach their adulthood.

After two months, the small hatchlings will break their shells and hatch from their eggs, start digging in the sand, and climbing up through the sand for about a week until they reach the surface. When they finally get on the beach, usually at night, their journey over the sand to the sea begins. The reflection of the moonlight on the ocean will show them how to make their way to the water, where they’ll remain for the rest of their life. Once the males are released in the ocean they never return to the beach, but only females do and that is when they lay their eggs. So, whenever you see a sea turtle on the beach you’ll know that it’s a female.

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Nesting and hatchlings usually take place at night. But, this natural process can be disturbed and affected in many ways, by us, people. That’s why nowadays touching or harassing a turtle when nesting is even illegal. It’s illegal to disturb, harass, or get too close to hatchlings or nesting sea turtles, taking or removing eggs too.

Shiny lights on the beach at night or flash photography can frighten away nesting females and make it harder for the hatchlings to find the sea. Turtles need their privacy while nesting. If nesting is disrupted, the turtle may not lay her eggs at all. So, it’s good advice to always keep a safe distance from the turtles for them to lay their eggs peacefully. Shining lights or taking flash photos of nesting sea turtles can disorient them. Bright lights can be deadly to the tiny hatchlings, making them go the wrong way, confusing the light from the beach with a moonlight. An artificial source on the beach that is on the opposite side of the water that usually comes from a beachfront property can get hatchlings confused about which way to crawl to reach the water.

For this reason, we should do our best to reduce artificial lights that affect the sea turtles to the minimum on the nesting beaches. During the nesting season, beachfront lights on the nesting beaches should be turned off at night and safe turtle lights or red light to be used instead.

Also, whenever visiting one of the nesting beaches, and near the turtles don’t forget to adjust your cell phone screen to a dark mode. Another thing is the fireworks on the beaches that can be quite disturbing for the sea turtles in the nesting season. They need their natural environment for healthy reproduction.

Nests are not always visible or marked. That’s why we should avoid sticking umbrellas or other objects in the sand on nesting beaches. And we should take everything we brought to the beach back with us like chairs, umbrellas, buckets, or toys and never leave those items on the beach at night. They can obstruct the sea turtles’ path. Bury any hole you find on the beach, because hatchlings can fall in and stuck, not making to the ocean. Beach lounge chairs, tables, and even sandcastles obstruct the path of the turtles making them unable to arrive at their nesting spot, causing them to turn around and return to the sea without giving birth.

Sandcastles should be built below the high water line where the sand is wetter. Digging sand can accidentally destroy nests and eggs. Sadly though at the end of the day, before leaving the beach sandcastles should be destroyed and sand flattened since they can block the path of the turtle or the hatchlings on their way to the ocean.

There are seven different species of sea turtles. They all have a characteristic shell on their back which protects their vital organs and big flippers for swimming long distances. Most of their life they spend it in the warm tropical waters. Sea turtles don’t have teeth, but their jaws are pretty powerful. So, look but don’t touch, because they can bite. Each species has a different diet. They can eat seagrasses and to some of them, jellyfish and crabs are favorite ones on the menu while others will satisfy themselves with sponges.

All seven species are endangered. They are often caught in fishing gear and drown or can mistake the plastic bags with jellyfish and choke. But, they are also killed for meat and shells.