World Turtle Day
Today, 23rd of May is World Turtle Day, an event created by The American Tortoise Rescue in 2000 and is now celebrated throughout the world. The aim is to raise awareness and encourage people to take action to protect them.
This year, we have decided to celebrate the World Turtle Day with this little article and also a presentation to our in-house guests. So let’s get it started!
We can define turtle as any reptile with a body encased in a bony shell. They can be divided in 3 groups:
- Tortoises – land turtles
- Terrapin – spend their lives both on land and in swampy waters
- Sea turtles – spend their lives in the sea, only coming to land to lay their eggs
For this article we will focus on sea turtles, as this is our area of expertise.
There are 7 species of sea turtles:
- Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) – they have a large head and a very strong crushing jaw, hence the name. Their diet consists of mainly hard-shelled animals such as crabs and conchs.
- Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) – largest of all sea turtles, can get up to 2.4m in length and weight up to 900kg. They have been around longer than any other sea turtle species.
- Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) – they are the smallest of all sea turtles, getting maximum to 45kg and 0.6cm in length. While all the other species prefer to lay their eggs during the night, this species nests mainly during the day.
- Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) – named after the colour in their carapace, they are just slightly bigger than the Kemp’s Ridley turtle. They usually nest in masses known as arribadas but also can be solitary nesters.
- Flatback (Natador depressa) – their population is concentrated in a very small geographic area, encompassing Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. They only nest on Australian beaches and lay around 50 eggs per nest.
- Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) – second largest specie, can weight up to 225kg and reach 1.2m in length. Green turtles are herbivorous, eating mainly algae and seagrass.
- Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate) – the common name is due to their sharp beak, which resembles a bird’s beak. Their diet is focused on sponges, which have some toxins that accumulated in their body, making their flesh inedible. Still, they are hunted for their beautiful carapace, which is then turned into jewellery.
6 of the 7 species are in risk of extinction, but scientists believe that the Flatback might also be in danger. There is just not enough data to determine it.
Here in Maldives we mostly see the Green and the Hawksbill turtles, but Loggerheads and Leatherbacks have also been spotted in Maldivian waters. Olive Ridleys are also around in big numbers but as they are pelagic turtles they are rarely seen by divers or snorkelers. Sadly, on the rare encounters, we usually find them entangled in drifting ghost fishing nets.
Unfortunately, entanglement in fishing nets is not the only threat to these beautiful creatures. Plastic pollution, coastal development and human consumption of their eggs, meat and shell also pose a serious threat.
How can we help?
- Don’t buy any turtle shell products, such as jewelry or hair combs;
- Don’t consume turtle meat or eggs;
- Donate to NGOs that help protect these lovely creatures, such as The Olive Ridley Project;
- Adopt a turtle;
- Spread the word!
Happy World Turtle Day!