There are only seven species of marine turtles, all of which rank high on the threatened species scale, even after 200 million years of existence. The reason for this is because almost all parts of their body are or have been used in many industries around the world, mainly the food and cosmetic industry.
- Turtles breathe air but can spend up to 3 hours underwater
- They prefer open water but can also be found close to reefs.
- Most are carnivores and feed on jellyfish, truncates (ascidians, sea squirts), soft corals, crabs, squids and fish. Occasionally they feed on algae and sea grasses and are one of the few animals that feed on sponges.
- Breeding occurs in cycles varying from 1-5 years but this usually happens every 2-3 years.
- Though mating occurs in the water, female turtles retreat to land to lay their eggs, and interestingly return to the exact beach on which they themselves emerged as hatchlings.
- A single female usually lays several batches of eggs every 2-3 weeks. The hind flippers are used to dig the hole that the eggs will fall into and 50-150 eggs are deposited each time. These are immediately covered with sand and the adult female returns to sea about 8 hours later.
- During this prolonged period on land the female’s eyes are moistened by mucus produced from her eyes.
- Egg incubation time is about 2 months and the sex is temperature dependent. Temperatures over 29.9 degrees produce female hatchlings whereas anything under that will produce males. All of which usually hatch at night time.
- The hatchlings are immediately under great threat from humans, birds, land animals like foxes, dogs and crabs as well as larger fish that in many cases await them in the shallows. The latter are also threats to the eggs during the incubation period.
Two of the seven sea turtle species exist around the island of Cyprus or simply return to Cyprus beaches to lay their eggs.
Caretta caretta (Loggerhead turtle) – Threatened species.
- Reddish brown color
- 55-95cm in length
- 65-105Kg in weight
- Usually found in coastal tropical or subtropical waters
- The carapace covers 80% of their body and is heart shaped
- They have pairs of coastal and vertebral scutes, 3 pairs of inframarginal scutes, the 1st coastal plate touches the neck and they have 2 claws each on the fore flippers
- They have large heads and powerful jaws
- Males have narrower shells and longer, thicker tails
- Their diet consists of crabs, molluscs, shrimp and jellyfish
- They reach sexual maturity between 12-30 years of age
- They can be identified from their inter prefrontal scute, their 2 postorbital scutes, 5 lateral scutes and their 2 claws on the front flippers
Chelonia mydas (Green sea turtle)
- Brown color (name derived from the color of its green fat)
- 80-120cm in length
- 130-250Kg in weight
- Their hatchlings look almost black but lighten in color within their first year
- They reach sexual maturity between 20-50 years of age and mate every 2-4 years in shallow waters close to shore
- Their carapace covers 90% of their body and is oval shaped
- They have 4 coastal scutes, none of which overlap, a pair of scales at the front of the head and fore flippers with a claw each
- As juveniles they feed on shellfish, jellyfish and other marine creatures, however as adults they prefer to feed on sea grass and algae
- Their distribution mostly covers the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the indo pacific, the gulf of mexico and the Argentinian coast
- They are an overhunted species due to the use of their flesh in turtle soup but live however, in bays and coastal waters
- They can be identified from the serated jaw on their head and because they only have 1 claw on their front flippers
- The males are slightly larger than the females, with a longer tail
- Their eggs usually take around 2 months to hatch
* In Cyprus they have been reported on occasion to have only layed 63 eggs.
- Accidental stepping by humans and cars.
- Predators such as: Birds, crabs, large fish and land animals such as foxes and dogs.
- Pollution: plastic bags being confused as jellyfish, oil spillage, sewage and radioactive waste.
- Boat propellers: accidental collision with boats or boat propellers when the sea turtle arises at the surface of the water to breath air.
- Destruction of nesting grounds: for hotels, beach bars, restaurants. Also for the creation of tourist beaches where hundreds of sun beds and umbrellas are placed in areas were some sea turtles might build their nests.
- Human killing: mainly for food (such as turtle soup) and for the cosmetic industry.
- Fishermen: fishnets may capture a sea turtle and forbid the species to breath air thus drown.