The colourful and stunning-looking sea turtles have been straddling the warm waters of world’s oceans for over 100 million years. They survived the cataclysmic effects of the massive meteorite strike that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Yet, these agile and resilient species are now facing the threat of extinction because of reckless human activities.
There are now seven surviving species of sea turtles in the world, ranging in yellow, greenish and black colours. They vary greatly in sizes, from the smallest ‘Kemp’s ridley’ weighing about 80-100 pounds to the largest ‘leatherback’ weighing more than 1,000 pounds. They swim through water and, unlike other turtles, cannot withdraw their head and feet into the shell.
They forage on jellyfish, crabs and shrimps; and on marine vegetation like seaweeds and algae. They live in warm and temperate waters, and migrate to long distances up to 1,400 miles between nesting grounds and feeding areas. They usually return to their birthplace for nesting. These days they are most commonly found in the Mesoamerican reef in the Pacific, Gulf of California, Galapagos Islands off the north-western coast of South America, coastal Africa, and the Coral Triangle in south-east Asia.
Their mating season lasts between March-October, the gestation period takes 6-10 weeks, the females lay clutches of 70-190 eggs in sandy nests on the shore, and the new hatchlings after emerging from their nests move to distant horizons of the ocean. The juveniles spend few years in the open seas where after they move to protected bays, estuaries and near-shore waters. The adult females swim alone to the shores to lay eggs every 2 to 5 yrs.
The sea turtles wait for decades to reproduce; only a few hatchlings survive the 1st year of life. They face significant natural challenges and multiple threats from human beings. The gravest danger comes from being accidentally entangled into the fishing nets of mechanized trawlers. Overharvesting and illegal trade in sea turtle also pose a threat to their proliferation. Sea turtle are prized for their eggs, meat (considered to have medicinal value) and shells. They lose their natural habitat because of uncontrolled development of coastal areas and beaches. The recent rise in temperatures of sea surface water has been begun to destroy their foraging grounds.
The World Wildlife Federation is trying to contain these dangers by protecting the nesting grounds and habitats through global cooperation. Radioactive tagging and satellite tracking is carried out to study their feeding areas and migrations so as to avert the fishing activities from colliding with their movements.
Besides being a tourist attraction, sea turtles serve as an important link to marine ecosystems. They clean up the sea beds and coral reefs of weed and grass to maintain a healthy environment that benefits the commercially valuable harvesting of shrimps, lobsters and tuna.
Article Written by Dolphi D'Silva [480 Words]
Posted on Oct 27, 2013 with Views.
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