Tourists Head Home as Turtles Return to Nest
Updated: May 4, 2021
With Just 3 Weeks Left in Our Glassblowing Season We Wrap Up With A Study In Sea Turtles
Of all the things that inspired and grounded me most over quarantine, I never expected it would be turtles. But last summer a journey began that would unexpectedly lead me to a new study in these prehistoric gentle giants. In search of some quarantine sanity, I started jogging the coastline at sunrise. Day after day I would encounter a woman on a beach quad combing the sand suspiciously. Finally curiosity got the better of me. I smirked as I inquired which pirate's treasure she hoped to find? She patiently explained that she was searching for turtle tracks, a question she had clearly answered no less than a hundred times, that week. As it turns out, Naples beaches are prime nesting grounds for loggerhead sea turtles. This was a fact that I had learned growing up here as a child. Over the years this truth has faded to the background as the beaches have become more and more crowded and I mostly just associate them with spring-breakers and sunbathing. But when the first light hits the sand and there is nothing but the lapping waves and feeding seagulls to be heard, I relearned the plight of the loggerhead.
Beginning in May, sea turtles, one of the planets oldest living creatures, make their way onto the beach to lay their eggs. A ritual 100 million years in the making, these turtles are hardwired to return to the same beach from which they hatched to lay their own nests (called "clutches") . Every morning my new friend, a conservationist and employee of the city of Naples, rises with the sun in search of the tell tale markings they leave with their fins as they crawl past the high water mark and toward the sea oats . She marks the nests and then as the summer progresses her search shifts to signs of hatching. Once she has clear signs of emerging baby turtles, she waits 3 days and then returns to collect data on the nest as well as help any struggling turtles that may not have been able to crawl out of the nest on their own. One such morning, I dragged my young boys and wife to watch the sunrise and we were lucky enough to witness a nest being excavated and three newly hatched turtles finding their way to the gulf for the first time. It was transformative. Not only was I mesmerized, but my 9 year old was hooked. We spent the rest of the summer trying to beat the sun to the beach, researched loggerheads and even visited the Sea Turtle Hospital and Research Center in the Keys several times. A year later, neither my son's nor my fascination has wained. He has been working as diligently as any 4th grader can to raise awareness and funds for conservation. This month I join him . I am busy sculpting glass sea turtles and any sold in the month of May will have 50% of the sale donated to one of our favorite Sea Turtle Allies, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Watch a Sea Turtle Being Sculpted Step-by-Step
Turtles Face Many Threats
Getting accidentally caught in fishing gear is probably the biggest threat to marine turtles. It’s also estimated that more than 50% of marine turtles have ingested plastic or other human rubbish - often mistaking it for food such as jellyfish. Plastic washed up on beaches can also limit space for nesting and block tiny hatchlings’ paths to the ocean.
Your purchase of a glass turtle will support of the Conservancy’s Sea Turtle Monitoring and Protection Program will give more loggerheads and Kemp's ridley sea turtles the chance to survive and thrive.
10 Fun Facts About Sea Turtles
1. THERE ARE SEVEN SPECIES OF MARINE TURTLE
Marine turtles were around more than 100 million years ago - and lived alongside dinosaurs. These days, scientists recognise seven species of marine turtle:
Six of these are threatened with extinction, and there's simply not enough information on the flatback to know how at risk they are.
2. TURTLES DON’T HAVE TEETH
They use their beak-like mouth to grasp their food. This beak is made of keratin (the same stuff your fingernails are made of).
3. THEY’RE HARD
Turtle shells are made of over 50 bones fused together - so they're literally wearing their bones on the outside. They also have light, spongy bones that help them float.
4. THEIR YOUNG LIVES ARE A MYSTERY
The first few years of a marine turtle’s life are known as the ‘lost years’. That’s because the time between when the hatchlings emerge until they return to coastal shallow waters to forage is incredibly difficult to study. The lost years they spend at sea – which can be up to 20 years – largely remain a mystery to us.
5. THEY CAN BE GINORMOUS
Marine turtle species vary greatly in size. The smallest, Kemp’s ridley, measure around 70cm long and weigh up to 40kg, whilst the leatherback can reach up to 180cm long and weigh 500kg. That’s over 10 times heavier! Amazingly, Wales holds the world record for the largest marine turtle ever found. In 1988, a leatherback was found ashore measuring 2.5 m long, 2.5 m from flipper to flipper, and weighing over 900kg (that’s more than 140 stone)!
6. IT’S SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
It's estimated that only around 1 in 1,000 marine turtle hatchlings make it to adulthood. This is down to the long time it takes for them to reach maturity and the many dangers faced by hatchlings and juveniles – from predators to marine plastics.
7. THEY MAKE SOME INTERESTING NOISES
Female leatherbacks make some strange noises when they’re nesting – some of which sound similar to a human belch.
8. THEY HAVE COLOUR PREFERENCES
Turtles seem to prefer red, orange and yellow food - they appear to investigate these colours more than others when looking for a meal.
9. LIFE AIN’T A TRACK MEET, IT’S A MARATHON
Marine turtles can migrate incredibly long distances – the longest known record is for a female leatherback who swam nearly 13,000 miles over 647 days from Indonesia to the west coast of America. That’s over 20 miles a day.
10. THEY ALWAYS RETURN HOME
Females return to the same beach they hatched on, to lay their own eggs and bury them in sand ‘nests’. Marine turtles’ amazing ability to navigate comes from their sensitivity to the Earth's magnetic fields.
*Sourced from https://www.wwf.org.uk/learn/fascinating-facts/marine-turtles