What do you know about one of the world's most endangered species?
Sea turtles are ancient species, having been around since the time of the dinosaurs — about 110 million years.
All six sea turtle species found in U.S. waters are protected by the Endangered Species Act. They are the green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. The flatback turtle is found only in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
The leatherback is the largest sea turtle species, weighing up to 2,000 pounds and measuring from 6-9 feet long. Its shell (carapace) is strong and flexible, like leather — thus the name.
The green is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle. It grows from a two-inch hatchling weighing one-half pound to an adult size of 3 feet long and 300-350 lbs.
It takes 20-30 years for a sea turtle to reach sexual maturity. When a female is ready to lay eggs, she returns to the nesting beach where she was born, even if she has not been there for 30 years! Some females nest every year until the age of 80.
The Kemp's Ridley is the only sea turtle that nests predominantly during daylight hours. They often gather in a large group to come ashore and nest, which is called an arribada — Spanish for "arrival."
Loggerheads nest from April to September and generally build 3-5 nests per season, totaling 35 pounds of eggs.
Hawksbills build their nests faster than any other sea turtle species, typically completing the exacting process in less than 45 minutes.
On the beach, hatchlings must escape natural predators like birds, crabs, raccoons, and foxes to make it to the sea. Once in the water, hatchlings are consumed by seabirds and fish. Few survive to adulthood, with estimates ranging from one in 1,000 to one in 10,000.
Sea turtles' natural lifespan is estimated to be 50-100 years.
An adult hawksbill sea turtle eats an average of 1,200 pounds of sponges a year.
Loggerhead sea turtles, named for their relatively large heads, have powerful jaws for cracking hard-shelled prey like whelks and conchs.
The leatherback's flexible shell allows it to dive to great depth to feast on its favorite prey — jellyfish and salps.
Turn out the lights at night near nesting beaches. Artificial light may disorient hatchlings and distract them from making their dash to the sea.
If you see a turtle nest, leave it alone! Nests are protected by federal and state laws, and harming one can lead to hefty fines and even prison.
When you leave the beach, level the playing field for sea turtles. Knock down sand castles, fill in holes, and remove everything you brought with you, including gear, food, and trash.
Dispose of trash properly and use reusable bags. Litter on the beach is just one gust away from becoming marine debris. Turtles can mistake plastic bags for food or get tangled up in kite strings, six-pack rings, and fishing lines.
Never release balloons outdoors. Balloons that find their way to the ocean are choking hazards for many types of marine life, including sea turtles.