Florida Sea Turtles
With 663 miles of beaches, Florida offers habitat and nesting places to 5 species of sea turtles: green, loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley. Sea turtles nesting season is from March to October in Florida.
Florida offers a tropical climate, with warm waters year-round. The food is in abundance and the strict protection rules make Florida a safer place than others.
Large parts of the beaches in Florida have walls or construction materials, which is destroying the turtles’ natural habitat. The lights next to the beach disorient the hatchlings and can cause them to crawl in the wrong direction. After emerging from the nest, they move toward the light of the moon over the water, unless the city lights are brighter. Other dangers are beach equipment left on the beach, holes or tire tracks that can block their way to the sea.
The green turtle is the only completely vegetarian sea turtle, called green after the color of its meat and fat. The average size of the females nesting in Florida is 101 cm (3.31 feet) carapace length and 136 kg (300lb). They come to Florida to feed and to nest; they can nest 2-3 times per season. Their spots in Florida include the Indian River Lagoon, Florida Bay, Homosassa Bay, Crystal River and Cedar Key. These are feeding locations — major nesting areas are Brevard and Palm Beach counties.
The hawksbill is a small to medium size turtle, with narrow head and very distinctive beak-like jaw. The beauty of their scutes’ pattern led people to hunt them for hundreds of years. Nowadays, the carapace trade is banned, but unfortunately souvenirs made out of hawksbill carapaces can still be seen. The adults’ diet is mainly composed of sponges and that provide them a nearly exclusive source of food, since the sponges’ spines are highly toxic for many animals. Only very few hawksbill turtles nest in Florida each year; hawksbills nest once every 3 years.
The leatherback is the largest sea turtle, the most basic evolutionarily and very distinctive by its leathery appearance and lack of carapace. It’s the fastest sea turtle, the deepest diver and very flexible (can swim in circles when attacked by sharks). Females are likely to change nesting beaches, unlike other sea turtles. The preferred beaches are sandy, backed with vegetation and gentle slope, close to deep waters. A small amount of leatherback turtles nest in Florida and they return to nest every 2 to 4 years.
Loggerheads have a large head with strong jaws and may bite if disturbed while nesting. They have barnacles and algae growing on their carapace, and little fish accompany them in their journey, feeding on the organisms that grow on their carapace. Most Atlantic Loggerheads nest in Florida, laying 67,000 nests per year - this is the largest concentration of nesting loggerheads in the world.
Before the 1940’s, the nesting site of the Kemp’s ridley was unknown, until a young Mexican engineer and pilot discovered the arribada on the Mexican coast, where all the females go to nest at the same time, 2-3 times per season. Rare nests have been reported in Florida. The Kemp’s ridleys don’t travel as much as other species do, staying in the Atlantic, mainly Gulf of Mexico and juveniles travel in the Gulf Stream to the North Atlantic from where they return in the winter.
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