Sea Turtle Release


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This is a presentation about Sea Turtles. It describes each type of turtle and explains why they are an endangered species. It also includes recent pictures taken of a Sea Turtle release at Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, Florida. The health of thousands of turtles was compromised by the record cold gulf temperatures in Florida in January 2010, causing the Sea Turtles to stop moving and swimming. The Florida State Wildlife Conservation Commission and other many other groups of professionals and volunteers teamed together to warm the turtles, return them to health, then release them back into the wild. This presentation describes ways to help Sea Turtles increase their numbers and provides resources for further study.

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Sea Turtle Release

  1. 1. Sea Turtle Release Vanderbilt Beach January, 2010
  2. 2. Sea Turtles in Florida • Five species of sea turtles are found swimming in Florida's waters and nesting on Florida's beaches. All sea turtles found in Florida are protected under state statutes. • Illegal harvesting, habitat encroachment, and pollution all impact the survival of Sea Turtles in Florida.
  3. 3. Florida services to save Sea Turtles: • FWRI staff members coordinate the Florida Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (FLSTSSN), which is responsible for gathering data on dead or debilitated (i.e., stranded) Sea Turtles found in Florida. • Debilitated turtles are rescued and transported to rehabilitation facilities. • The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission oversees Sea Turtle programs Photo Credit FWC throughout the state.
  4. 4. FAQs about Sea Turtles From an article by Joanne Harcke • Like all turtles, Sea Turtles are reptiles. • They are cold-blooded vertebrates with scaly skin, lungs and a three- chambered heart. • Sea turtles lay eggs. • The turtle's upper shell is called the carapace. The carapace is covered in hard scales called scutes. • The lower shell is called the plastron. • Sea Turtles do not have teeth, but the jaw is a modified beak. Sea Turtles have no visible ears, but they do have eardrums that are covered by skin. • Sea turtles have good vision underwater, but do not see well out of water.
  5. 5. FAQs about Sea Turtles Sea turtles have shells streamlined for swimming, and have flippers instead of legs. – These adaptations allow sea turtles to move effortlessly through the water. – They are strong swimmers and deep divers. Green turtles can stay underwater for up to five hours. Photo Credit Dulcey Lima
  6. 6. Sea Turtle Sea vs. land turtles • Because the shell is so streamlined, Sea Turtles cannot retract their heads or flippers to protect themselves Photo Credit Dulcey Lima from predators. • Although the earliest Land Turtle Sea Turtles evolved from terrestrial turtles, they are poorly adapted for life on land. Photo Credit Tony Northrup
  7. 7. Taxonomy: Class: Reptilia Order: Testudines Suborder: Cryptodira Family: Dermochelyidae Photo Credit Dulcey Lima
  8. 8. How big are Sea Turtles? • Even the smallest Sea Turtles are larger than their land- going counterparts. • Green turtles are 30-44 inches long and weigh between 150 and 400 pounds. • Kemp's and Olive Ridleys are the smallest Sea Turtles with the largest averaging around 30 inches long and about 100 pounds. • Leatherbacks are the largest Naples News Photo by David Alberg taken when sea turtles, reaching lengths this Leatherback turtle beached twice in Lee of 4-6 feet and weights from County in January. The disoriented Leatherback 400 to over 1000 pounds. was out of its normal territory and was estimated to weigh between 600 and 700 pounds.
  9. 9. How long do sea turtles live and what colors are they? • Sea turtles can live as long as eighty years, if not more. • They range in color from yellow through dark green, brown, and black. Roatan Hawksbill Turtle Photo credit George Gardner.
  10. 10. Where are Sea Turtles found? • Some sea turtle species range in warm oceans world-wide, while others are limited to certain oceans or regions. • Greens, leatherbacks, and loggerheads can be found in all oceans, except at the poles. • Hawksbill turtles also range world- wide, but are found primarily in tropical reef habitats in the Caribbean and in tropical Australia. • The Flatback is also found in Australian waters. Kemp's Ridley is an Atlantic turtle, preferring the western North Atlantic. • The Olive Ridley calls the Pacific Ocean home. • Sea turtles generally prefer shallower waters like bays, lagoons and estuaries, though many travel through the open sea.
  11. 11. How do Sea Turtles return to their nesting areas? • They may migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles. • In the water, their path is greatly affected by powerful currents. • Despite their limited vision and lack of landmarks in the open water, turtles are able to retrace their migratory paths. • One explanation for this phenomenon is that sea turtles use the earth’s magnetic fields to navigate. Diagram Credit Origami ‘n Stuff Information from Save the Turtles.
  12. 12. Mating • Courtship and mating for most sea turtles is believed to occur during a limited "receptive" period prior to the female's first nesting emergence. • Afterwards, only females come ashore to nest. Males almost never return to land once they leave the sand of their natal beach. • During mating season, males may court a female by nuzzling her head or by gently biting the back of her neck and rear flippers. • If the female does not flee, the male attaches himself to the back of the female's shell by gripping Photo Credit MIR ( her top shell with claws in his front Green Sea Turtles Mating flippers. He then folds his long tail under her shell to copulate.
  13. 13. Mating • Females observed on the nesting beach after recently mating often have scratched shells and may be bleeding from where the males' were hooked to their shells. • Copulation can take place either on the surface or under water. • Sometimes several males will compete for females and may even fight each other. • Observers of sea turtle mating have reported very aggressive behavior by both the males and females. • Females may mate with several males just prior to nesting season and store the sperm for several months. • When the female finally lays her eggs, they will have been fertilized by a variety of males. • This behavior may help keep genetic Photo Credit Chuck Babbit diversity high in the population. Green Sea Turtles mating.
  14. 14. How do Sea Turtles lay their eggs? • Even though sea turtles spend most of their lives in the water, all begin life on the beach. • The female sea turtle emerges from to ocean to nest very close to the beach where she was hatched (the ability to return to the place of one's birth is called natal homing). • The nesting season in the United States is between April and October. • Most females crawl out of the water at night and spend several hours digging a nest, laying eggs, and covering the nest before returning to the ocean. • Sea turtle digging nest in Australia.
  15. 15. How is the Leatherback’s nest made? • When the female Leatherback is ready to nest, she will choose a beach without a coral reef and one close to the deep water. • She chooses a dry area and begins the arduous task of nest excavation. – Using her flippers and the rotation of her body, she will dig an egg cavity that is approximately 70 centimeters deep. She will then lay 80 to 100 eggs, a process that can take over two hours. – She lays an average of 80 fertilized eggs and 30 smaller, unfertilized eggs in each nest. – After she is finished, she will carefully cover and camouflage the clutch, and may even construct false nests to fool predators. – Her role now complete, she will depart to the ocean, leaving her eggs to their fate. • Recent satellite tracking data indicates that the Leatherback, unique among turtles in many ways, may return to a range area or region, rather than a natal beach. • The ecological health of the nesting habitat has an impact on the success of Sea Turtle reproduction.
  16. 16. Eggs and sex determination • The nest holds about 120 eggs, each about the size of a ping-pong ball. Most females will nest more than once each season to increase survival rates, but usually do not nest every year. • The eggs incubate for approximately 55 days. Incubation time is directly related to nest temperature. At colder temperatures the hatchlings take longer to develop. • Temperature also determines whether the hatchlings are male or female. Warmer temperatures tend to produce more females. Photo credit Brevard County
  17. 17. What happens when the eggs hatch? • The hatchlings emerge from the nest at night and follow the moonlight into the ocean. • Once in the water, the hatchlings have to avoid many predators before reaching floating Sargasso weeds. • Scientists think that small sea turtles spend several years floating in the seaweed, eating and growing. • Once they are large enough, the young turtles will return to coastal waters to forage and continuing growing. • At fifteen to twenty years of age, sea turtles reach maturity. Mature turtles will gather in mating areas. • Females mate with several males before making the journey back to the nesting beach to lay their eggs.
  18. 18. What do Sea Turtles do in the water? • Typically sea turtles are solitary animals that spend most of the day feeding and resting. • Sea turtles can sleep on the surface of the water, or on the bottom. • Scuba divers often see turtles napping under rocks and ledges. • Previous tagging and tracking studies have shown that sea turtles can migrate thousands of miles. Photo Credit Semarnat
  19. 19. Why are Sea Turtles endangered? • Today only seven species of sea turtle exist world-wide. All seven species are listed as "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act. • Young sea turtles have many natural predators. Raccoons, dogs and ghost crabs raid nests and devour eggs. • Hatchlings on the beach are easy targets for crabs and birds. • Once in the ocean, sharks and large fish can easily consume a small hatchling. • Hatchlings can die of dehydration before they An Eco-guard in Gabon West Africa poses next to a female reach the water. Leatherback as she heads to the sea.
  20. 20. Why are Sea Turtles endangered? • Human interaction has caused the biggest collapse of sea turtle populations. • Humans can interfere with every stage of a sea turtle’s life cycle. – Beachfront development, beach nourishment projects, driving on beaches, and artificial lighting all impact sea turtle nesting behavior. – Boating, fishing, and dredging can harm or even kill swimming sea turtles. • Sea turtles can drown when they become entangled in floating garbage, and they can ingest floating debris. • Sea turtles and their eggs are harvested for food and other materials in some parts of the world. • Most harmful interactions between humans and sea turtles are unintentional. • The increased human presence in coastal areas results in increased interactions between humans and sea turtles. • Global warming has modified the habitat of Sea Turtles.
  21. 21. What can be done to limit deleterious effects of humans on Sea Turtle populations? • Plan and regulate beachfront development, beach driving, and lighting. • Require Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on all offshore shrimping boats. The U.S. requires this from North Carolina to Texas. – These "trapdoors" allow turtles to escape from shrimp nets as they are pulled through the water. • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) prohibits the international trade of sea turtles. Joanne Harcke, who wrote these FAQs, is Conservation and Research Coordinator at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
  22. 22. What do Sea Turtles eat? • Green turtles, and probably flatbacks are primarily vegetarian. • Loggerheads like jellyfish, shrimp, clam, and mollusk. • Leatherbacks like soft- bodied animals like jellyfish.
  23. 23. Colier County Sea Turtle Release January, 2010
  24. 24. Sea Turtle rescue from Florida panhandle • 15 sea turtles were brought to North Naples to be released in the warmer waters of the gulf on January 20th, 2010. • The turtles were part of 1,500 that were rescued from the cold waters of St. Joseph’s Bay near the Florida panhandle during the recent freezing weather. • The turtles spent the last week warming up at the federal fish hatchery near Ocala. Photo Credit Florida Wildlife Conservation
  25. 25. Volunteers and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission teamed up to save the turtles. • The turtles are part of a massive statewide operation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and countless partner agencies. • With local volunteers, these groups are trying to save thousands of Sea Turtles that have come ashore in January, paralyzed by the cold water and unable to eat or swim. Photo Credit FWC
  26. 26. Vanderbilt Beach chosen as one of the release beaches. • The release started earlier Tuesday when a crew from Disney World brought the turtles from the Ocala area to Sarasota. • Volunteers with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch drove the turtles from Sarasota to the warm waters of Colier County and Vanderbilt Beach. Photo Credit FWC
  27. 27. Turtles caught by cold snap were studied and tagged before the release. • Conservationists have tagged more turtles than ever before, which will help scientists learn more about where they go and their rate of survival. • Scientists take genetic information from the turtles before they are released to find out where each turtle hatched. Information from: f/eric_staats Photo Credit FWC
  28. 28. Waiting in line to be released: Photo Credit Dulcey Lima
  29. 29. Tagged and ready for reentry… Photo Credit Dulcey Lima
  30. 30. The race to the gulf… • About 30 people witnessed the release of the Sea Turtles on Vanderbilt Beach on January 20th, 2010. • All of the turtles reentered the water successfully. • The turtles will be monitored to determine the long term success of the rehabilitation program and their release back into the wild. Photo Credit Dulcey Lima
  31. 31. Ready to go… • Sea Turtles lack the ability to tuck their heads inside their shells like land turtles. • The wide flippers replace the legs characteristic of land turtles. Photo Credit Dulcey Lima
  32. 32. What distinguishes each species of Sea Turtle? • The outer shell or carapace is the primary feature used in the identification of Sea Turtle species. • The number of scutes on the carapace, their shape, coloring and patterning is specific to each species. • The prefrontal scales located on the turtle’s head are also used to distinguish each species. Photo Credit Dulcey Lima
  33. 33. How many species of Sea Turtles are there? There are seven species of Sea Turtles. • Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) • Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) • Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) • Green (Chelonia mydas) • Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) • Olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) • Flatback (Natator depressus)
  34. 34. Leatherback (Dermachelys coriasea) • Largest of all Sea Turtles. • Only Sea Turtle with a soft, leathery shell. • Most in danger of extinction. • Largest reptile in the sea. Photo Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  35. 35. Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) • Known for their Hawk-like beak. • Often hunted for their beautiful shell. Hawksbill photo credit Caroline Rogers
  36. 36. Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) • Known for their large heads. • Known to migrate from Japan to Mexico. Photo Credit Marco Giuliano/Fondazione Cetacea
  37. 37. Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) • Largest of hard- shelled Sea Turtles. • As an adult, the only Sea Turtle that is herbivorous. • Its diet of algae and plants contributes to its green coloration. Photo Credit Turtle Trax
  38. 38. Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidopchyles kempii) • Smallest of the Sea Turtles. • Almost round shell is grayish green. • Named after the man who first studied this turtle. • Usually occupy muddy or sandy bottom habitats where they find their prey of jellyfish, fish and mollusks. • Nest in a large group near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. • Distributed throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic seaboard . Photo Credit: Cynthia Rubio and NPS
  39. 39. Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) • Named for its olive color. • Heart shaped shell. • Most abundant sea turtle in the world. • The carapace is greater in height than other Sea Turtles. • The females nest in enormous numbers at the same time. • As many as 60,000 get caught in fishing nets each year and die. • Orida, India has one of the largest Olive Ridley nesting sites in the world. Photo Credit Kedar Gore
  40. 40. Flatback (Natator depressa) • Indigenous to Australia and is the only turtle that does not have a range that extends to another country. • So named because of its flat shell. • Olive-gray elliptical shell with turned up edges. • Lives in turbid, inshore waters.
  41. 41. How can beachgoers help Sea Turtles? • If sea turtle eggs are discovered rolling around on the beach or in the surf, leave the eggs alone. The eggs still contribute to the beach and ocean ecosystems in the form of nutrients. • If you find a nest that is eroding away, contact the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922. • If you find a hatchling that is actively crawling to the surf, allow it to continue its trek to the ocean without interference. • If you find a hatchling that is not actively crawling or appears sick, injured or lethargic, contact the Photo Credit from article by Dr. Wildlife Alert Hotline. Do not put Jean Lightner USDA these hatchlings in the water. They will need rehabilitation before they return to the ocean.
  42. 42. How can beachgoers protect Sea Turtles? • Do not dig into a marked or unmarked nest to save eggs or hatchlings as a storm approaches or recedes. • No one should transport eggs or hatchlings without authorization from the FWC. Eggs and/or hatchlings may not be kept in homes or personal aquariums. Photo Credit Dulcey Lima • Avoid lights on the beach during nesting season. Vanderbilt Beach Resort and other private • Allow nature’s own processes facilities work to protect Sea Turtle nests to continue uninterrupted by on the beach by growing native plants, human contact. preventing foot traffic in nesting areas and practicing good stewardship of the beach and the sea.
  43. 43. Tagged and ready for reentry.
  44. 44. ‘Til next time…. Photo Credit Dulcey Lima
  45. 45. For More Information…….. • For more information on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Sea Turtle program, write to: National Sea Turtle Coordinator U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 7915 Baymeadows Way, Suite 200 Jacksonville, FL 32256 • For more information on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s International Sea Turtle program, write to: International Sea Turtle Specialist U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of International Conservation 4401 North Fairfax Drive ARLSQ - Room 200 Arlington, VA 22203-1622 • Additional Websites: See satellite tracking of sea turtles Save the turtles at
  46. 46. SAFE PASSAGE! Special thanks to the many groups and individuals whose information and photographs contributed to this presentation.