Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate),
With our new Turtle Watch programme and the chance of you becoming “turtle monitor” on your next visit, it seemed appropriate that we told you a little more about them in this month’s creature feature.
As one of the most fascinating animals of the sea, turtles are reptilian and have barely changed in their 200 million years of existence. We have 2 types of Turtle here in the Red Sea, the Green and the Hawksbill and the information below is relevant to both. A solitary creature the turtle roams the seas using its front flippers for propulsion and its rear flippers for stability and steering.
Several weeks before nesting season the turtles reject their lonely lifestyle and seek a partner for mating season. Several males may court one female and seem to have no scruples when it comes to interrupting a “busy” couple to get in on the action! The active male secures his prize by clinging firmly to the female with his front claws.
Weeks later the female comes to shore to nest, digging a pit with her rear flippers she pops out the slime coloured, ping-pong ball shaped eggs and covers them with sand. Thanks to a sperm storage ability the female can lay several sets of eggs at different times without having to endure the messy business again.
Emerging from their sandy shelter the hatchlings are guided by the moonlight to the sea, which is why with modern lighting they tend to end up heading towards the nearest bar! Once at sea the tiny little turtles are picked off by seabirds, crabs and fish whilst those that survive roam the seas alone until ready to reproduce. Interestingly enough, the turtles always return to nest at the place they were born, sometimes returning hundreds of miles, to reach familiar shores.
The main predator was always sharks although in recent years this is superseded by the enormous threat mankind is having on the turtle population. Nesting grounds are destroyed by development, floating garbage is mistaken for food and causes slow starvation and over fishing results in a staggering number of deaths through unintentional by catch and entanglement. Steps are being taken to reverse attitudes and trends in countries where the meat and products are considered exotic – but this will not happen overnight and as the saying goes ‘when the buying stops the killing can too’.