All life journeys are unique in their own way, yet the life of a sea turtle is no small feat. Sea turtles are ancient mariners who’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs. The earliest known marine turtle lived about 120 million years ago. Sea turtles have survived through the challenges of eons, existing still today where many others have ended their evolutionary run. Throughout the centuries, every living adult sea turtle has lived overcoming numerous challenges, taking a miraculous journey towards existence.
Deposited as a clutch of leathery white eggs into a nesting pit dug by its mother on a tropical or subtropical beach, the sea turtles face their first challenge for existence in the form of eggs itself as 20% of an average of 110 eggs never hatch. The sex of the sea turtle is determined by the temperature in the nest. Cooler temperatures produce male hatchlings while warm temperatures produce female hatchlings. Roughly two months after the eggs being laid, the surviving eggs hatch, and the young turtles squirm to the surface. Sea turtle hatchlings have one of the most treacherous starts in life. They make their way out of the nest towards the open ocean in a desperate dash as debris, crabs, gulls, raccoons and several other threats claim roughly 50% of those who rose from the sand. Those that finally reach the surf fall into the hands of new threats like the repelling force of waves and a whole new host of predators. The turtles then swim frantically forward and ultimately settle in a patch of floating seaweed where they do little more than eating, grow and continue to fight off threats. In this phase, 50% of those that reached the surface will perish.
With the passage of years, the turtles develop into different shapes, sizes, and colors. They don’t develop teeth, instead, they have modified “beaks” suited to their diet. As they live most of their lives in water, only females coming back to land to lay eggs, their vision underwater is very good whereas out of the water they are nearsighted. They have streamlined bodies, large paddle-like limbs called flippers, and the ability to remain submerged in water for hours all of which make them remarkably adapted to life at sea. However, unlike land turtles, sea turtles can’t hide their legs inside the shell making them vulnerable to predators.
Sea turtles are omnivores that live in almost every ocean basin throughout the world. They are known as the ocean’s lawnmowers as they eat seagrass and keep it short, preventing it from getting tall and harming other marine creatures. They can detect the Earth’s magnetic field and use it as a compass to migrate long distances to feed, often crossing entire oceans. Sea turtles swim thousands of ocean miles during their long lifetimes. Decades after reaching the ocean, they reproduce and return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their eggs and continue the cycle.
Out of those that began as eggs on the beach it is estimated that only one out of a thousand hatchlings survive to be an adult. This number is further affected by additional threats these animals face due to human activities including overharvesting, illegal trade, entanglement, climate change, pollution, and habitat loss. Currently, there are 7 species of sea turtles, all of which are considered either threatened or endangered. Even though there are several organizations doing their best to eliminate these threats, there is still a chance in the near future for sea turtles to be found only in aquariums and natural history museums. Today, a breeding adult sea turtle is the very embodiment of a longshot, and the journey it takes to become one is in a very real sense a miracle.
By Rtr. Sayagi Asogan