Sunday, May 18, 2014


 In honor of international turtle day, I decided to blog about baby turtles and their fight for survival. All around the world, people love turtles…they make a delicious soup, their shells make beautiful jewelery, and their eggs are supposedly an aphrodisiac. WHAT!???

I love turtles too, but I love them much more in their natural state…ALIVE! Unfortunately, most sea turtles have ended up on the endangered species list, and humans have had a very large part in this.

Sea turtle hatchlings have a very poor chance of survival. Only about one out of every thousand eggs will survive to be a mature adult turtle. These little guys have lots of obstacles to overcome.

Turtle hatchling races toward the sea

These little guys face many dangers – Photo courtesy of travelbagltd

Female turtles return to the beach where they hatched in order to lay their eggs.  When a female turtle’s birthplace habitat has been destroyed by coastal development, she does not know where to lay her eggs.  She needs to lay her eggs far enough up the beach so the tides don’t carry away her eggs, and the sand needs to be soft enough and deep enough for her to dig her nest.

Coastal development sometimes happens on turtle nesting grounds

Before her eggs have a chance to fully develop, animals dig them up and eat them.  Poachers steal her eggs and sell them.  Some people believe that sea turtle eggs are an aphrodisiac, so they are highly sought after in some cultures.  Once hatchlings emerge from their eggs, some of them are not strong enough, or are on the bottom of the clutch of eggs, and are not able to emerge from the deep hole in which they hatched.

Turtle eggs for sale in Costa Rica – photo courtesy of Cam Pervan

Once they emerge from the sandy pit, they have birds lurking overhead waiting for a tasty treat, and crabs snapping their claws ready for a crunchy meal.  Driftwood may get in their way, and artificial lighting may confuse them and lead them in the wrong direction.

Crabs await a crunchy meal

Sea gull eats baby turtle

Driftwood blocks baby turtles’ path to the sea

If they make it into the water and begin flapping their flippers, there are ocean predators awaiting them as well.  If they successfully make it past these initial threats, they are the few lucky ones.  They spend the next few years adrift, camouflaging themselves in large beds of sea weed such as saragassum.  They have a better chance of survival in open ocean, since there is less population density and therefor less predators.  

Much of our trash ends up in the ocean, and turtles can mistake trash for food.  Some get trapped in plastic rings that hold 6-packs or ingest things that won’t pass through their digestive systems and kill them such as plastics and tar balls from oil spills.  If they survive long enough to grow to about 10 inches or so, they can return to coastal areas with the older turtles.

Turtles return to coastal areas when they are big enough to survive – photo courtesy of James Bennar

Even if they make it this long, the threats to their survival are not over.  They still have large predators such as sharks that pose a threat.  Many turtles are accidentally trapped in fishing nets and drown.  Some turtles are hit by boats and their propellers.  Other turtles are poached for their meat, skin, and shells.

Tiger sharks enjoy eating a tasty turtle from time to time – Photo courtesy of Tobze

Fishing boat pulling up a net – photo courtesy of M&G Morris

Here’s what you can do to help sea turtles survival…

1.  Cut the plastic rings on your 6-pack plastics before throwing them away.

2.  Reduce, reuse, and recycle to minimize the trash you produce.

3. Purchase seafood that has been caught responsibly.  Some companies are more responsible than others in regards to what ends up in their nets.

4. Be careful what souvenirs you buy.  Never buy anything that is made from turtle shell.

5. Watch what you eat.  Just because a restaurant serves it, doesn’t mean that it’s being caught sustainably.  Print a card or get the app at

6. Sign a petition to save sea turtles.  Endangered sea turtles are still allowed to be hunted in the British Virgin Islands.  Help put a stop to this atrocity by signing:
7. Be respectful of turtle nesting beaches and never disturb or let your dog disturb their nests.

Don’t let your dog near turtle nests

8. If your home is near a turtle nesting beach, eliminate or at least minimize the amount of artificial light you produce during nesting season.

9.  Go on a sustainable Eco-tour to see or swim with sea turtles in their natural environment.  Remember not to touch, ride, or chase them.  Only non-aggressive observation that does not interfere with their natural behavior is acceptable.

Snorkel boat at Turtle Cove in the US Virgin Islands

10.  Volunteer!  There are many organizations looking for volunteers to help protect the sea turtles.  I volunteered  in Costa Rica with leatherback sea turtles…it was amazing!

Volunteer conducting research on the eggs that didn’t hatch

11. Help fund organizations like or, or learn from and support local turtle conservation organizations.

Turtle conservation in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

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