Why do nesting turtles “cry”?

Nesting sea turtles appear to shed tears, but in fact these salty secretions are the turtles’ way of ridding their body of excess salt consumed at sea.  There are tales told about how the mother is crying because the nesting process is so difficult, or because so many of her eggs are stolen by man and other predators, or because she will never see her tiny hatchlings.  But the truth is that all sea turtles “cry,” whether they are on land or in the sea.  It’s an important part of their physiology.

How many eggs does a sea turtles lay?

This varies from species to species but on average a sea turtles will lay approximately 100 – 150 eggs each time she nests.

How often do sea turtles nest?

Sea turtles nest once every 2 to 3 years.  When it is a turtles’ “nesting” year, hard-shelled species like the hawksbill or green turtle will deposit an average of 4 -5 nests in 12 – 14 day intervals.  The leatherback can deposit an average of 6 – 10 nests at 10 to 12 day intervals.  The amount of nests is dependent on the species, age/size of the turtle. The larger/older the turtle the more eggs she is able to store inside her.

Do the male sea turtles ever come ashore?

No.  Once the male hatchlings emerge from their nest they head to the sea and remain there for the rest of their lives. The only time we might see a male is prior to nesting season when they mate with the females, close to the nesting beaches but still at sea.

Why are sea turtles on the “endangered” and “critically endangered” list?

Because the worldwide populations has declined so rapidly in the last 50 – 100 years.

Why is that?

There are a number of reasons why sea turtle populations have declined at such a rapid rate.  Overharvesting for shells meat and eggs by humans.  Loss of habitat due to coastal development and beach erosion.  Boat strikes and collisions with pleasure craft suck as jet skis.  Pollution in our oceans such as oil slicks, sewage and other chemicals can make turtles sick.   Plastic bags in the water look like jellyfish to a turtle, if they eat it, the plastic bag is non-digestible and will stick in their throats or block their intestines, cause them to suffocate or slowly starve to death.  One of the biggest threats is ‘incidental bycatch in fishing gear.  Turtles often become snared or entangled in nets or longlines and since they need to surface periodically to breathe they end up drowning.

How long do sea turtles live?

It is thought that seaturtles have a lifespan similar to human beings, so around 75 – 100 years. However, due to the extreme conditions they now face (mentioned above) it is doubtful that many live that long.

How old are the females when they start to nest?

This varies from species to species but Scientists believe females start to lay eggs at between ages 15 – 25.

Why do the turtles nest in Trinidad and Tobago?

The turtles that nest here were born in T&T.   Most turtles always return to their beach of birth to lay their eggs.  Some turtles like the leatherback, travel to colder regions such as Canada, Newfoundland, etc. but they must return to tropical & subtropical beaches to nest as they provide the warm sand necessary for the incubation of their eggs.  The temperature of the sand determines the sex of the hatchlings.  If the sand is cooler it will produce more male hatchlings.  If it is warmer, we get more females.

What do sea turtles eat?

The diet of sea turtles depends on the species.  Some are omnivores, feeding on a variety of plants and animals, while others are specialists, feeding on a diet of jellyfish (leatherback) and sponges (hawksbill).  What they eat determines the habitat where they are found.  For example, green turtles forage among the seagrass beds and nearshore habitats.  Hawksbills are mainly found on coral reefs where they feed on sponges, and leatherbacks, which are deep divers, are found in open ocean environments where they feed on jellyfish.

Why don’t we just breed them in captivity or collect the eggs in a hatchery?

One of the most interesting aspects of sea turtle biology is that the sex of developing embryos is determined by temperature! Female turtles are produced in warmer nests, males in cooler locations, a temperature of about 30 ºC produces roughly equal numbers of males and females. Careful round the clock monitoring is therefore necessary to ensure that the natural gender balance is maintained as a population of all males or all females would be unable to reproduce.

How do you know the difference between a male and a female?

Mature male turtles have a distinguishable tail that extends well beyond the end of the carapace (shell), but it is virtually impossible to tell the difference at the juvenile stage by sight.

Where do they mate?

All sea turtles mate at sea.  Scientists believe males arrive near nesting beaches up to a month before and wait for arriving females, then mating takes place.  Males probably leave in the mid-season to return to foraging (feeding) areas.

Where do the babies go?

The juvenile years of a sea turtle are often referred to as the “lost years” because so little is understood about this critical phase of life.  Studies to date suggest that many swim directly to the Sargasso Sea or other areas of convergent currents where they can hide amongst the seaweed and other flotsam while developing the strength and size to venture further afield.  Most young turtles seem to eat anything at first and their diet becomes more specialized when they return to the habitat that they will inhabit for the rest of their life e.g. reefs for hawksbills and seagrass beds for greens.  Juvenile leatherbacks are very rarely reported in nearshore waters.

For more information on sea turtles check out WIDECAST or SeaTurtle.org, both of which have amazing web resources

© Save Our Sea Turtles