Fun Facts
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Having changed little in over 100 million years, sea turtles are some of the oldest and most resilient creatures on Earth. These ocean dwellers are able to swim incredible distances, stay underwater for hours at a time, and even traverse entire oceans. By detecting subtle variations in the earth’s magnetic field, sea turtles create a geomagnetic map of their location. This helps to guide them underwater. Imagine a built-in global positioning system (GPS) for turtles!  

Of the seven different species of sea turtles found on Earth, Florida’s beaches are home to five: Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempi), and Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). To properly identify each species, scientists look at the quantity, shape and type of scutes located on the upper and lower shells (carapace and plastron). To differentiate between sexes, males have a long thick tail, while females possess shorter stubbier ones.

The Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20-mile stretch of sandy beach off Florida’s east coast is considered by many the most important sea turtle nesting site in North America. Its warm, soft sands attract one quarter of all marine turtles within the United States. Each year, between March and October, adult female Loggerheads, Green Sea Turtles, and Leatherbacks crawl ashore at night to lay ping-pong ball sized eggs. Once these are safely in the ground, females camouflage the nest and return to the ocean, leaving their young to hatch and fend for themselves.

Like other reptilian species, ambient temperatures dictate the sex of the animal; warmer sands tend to produce more females, while cooler sands tend to produce more males. After a two month incubation period, baby sea turtles hatch from their shells and begin the laborious process of digging to the surface and crawling towards the sea. In order to travel in the right direction, sea turtles use visual clues as a guide--usually the brightest horizon or the night sky reflecting off the ocean. Once a male hatchling leaves the sand, rarely does he return to land; on the other hand, some mature females will travel extraordinary distances to lay eggs on the very same beach from which they were hatched (natal beach).

Love is in the air…or in the water! Believed to be the most beautiful of all marine turtles, juvenile Hawksbill Sea turtles(Eretmochelys imbircata) posses a heart-shaped carapace, and are commonly found in hard-bottom and coral habitats. It’s easy to see why this turtle got its name; its mouth resembles that of a hawk. This bird-like feature allows for easy picking at jellyfish, urchins, crustaceans and other creatures. Unfortunately, the Hawksbill’s tortoise-colored shell has also been its curse. Exploited for centuries, fishermen made jewelry, leathers, oils and cosmetics from its carapace and other parts. Increased hunting and loss of habitat have placed this animal on the endangered species list and as a result, international trade of Hawksbill products has been prohibited in many countries around the world.  




Resources for this article have been provided by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and Sea Turtle League, Wikipedia and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.




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