Five different species of sea turtles can be found in Florida:
The loggerhead sea turtle is the most common turtle to nest in Florida. Over 50,000 loggerhead nests are recorded annually in Florida. This turtle is named for its disproportionately large head and feeds on crabs, mollusks, and jellyfish.
The green sea turtle is the second most common turtle in Florida waters. Green sea turtles are the only herbivorous (plant-eating) sea turtles. They feed on seagrasses in shallow areas throughout the Gulf. The lower jaw is serrated to help cut the seagrasses it eats.
They are called green turtles because of the greenish color of their cartilage and the fat deposits around their internal organs, green turtles are black-brown or greenish yellow in color. They grow up to 5 feet long and can reach 440 pounds, but individuals from different populations vary widely in size. The carapace is oval when viewed from above, and the head is relatively small and blunt.
Anatomically, a few characteristics distinguish the green turtle from the other members of its family. Unlike the closely related hawksbill turtle, the green turtle’s snout is very short and its beak is unhooked. The horny sheath of the turtle’s upper jaw possesses a slightly denticulated edge while its lower jaw has stronger, serrated, more defined denticulation. The dorsal surface of the turtle’s head has a single pair of prefrontal scales. Its carapace is composed of five central scutes flanked by four pairs of lateral scutes. Underneath, the green turtle has four pairs of infra-marginal scutes covering the area between the turtle’s plastron and its shell. Mature C. mydas front appendages have only a single claw (as opposed to the hawksbill’s two), although a second claw is sometimes prominent in young specimens.
The carapace of the turtle has various color patterns that change over time. Hatchlings, like those of other marine turtles, have mostly black carapaces and light-colored plastrons. Carapaces of juveniles turn dark brown to olive, while those of mature adults are either entirely brown, spotted or marbled with variegated rays. Underneath, the turtle’s plastron is hued yellow. C. mydas limbs are dark-colored and lined with yellow, and are usually marked with a large dark brown spot in the center of each appendage
Green turtles range from about 3 feet to about 5 feet in length and can reach 290 pounds in size.
The leatherback is the largest sea turtle in the world and can be over 6 feet long and weigh 1400 pounds. It does not have a hard shell, but rather a leather-like carapace with bony ridges underneath the skin. The leatherback makes long migrations to and from its nesting beaches in the tropics as far north as Canada. Jellyfish are the favored prey of these turtles.
The leatherback turtle is the largest marine turtle and one of the largest living reptiles. Leatherbacks are one of the most migratory of all marine turtle species, making both trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific crossings. They are easily distinguished by their carapace, which is leathery, not hard as in other turtles, and by their long front flippers.
Leatherbacks have a unique system of blood supply to their bones and cartilage. This enables their body temperature to stay several degrees above the water temperature and allows them to tolerate cold water, rather like a mammal. They can dive to depths of up to 1,200m, much deeper than any other marine turtle.
The leatherback can reach up to 180 cm, and 500 kg in weight.
The species carapace (shell) is dark with white spots. Their major habitat is open water and coastal habitats.
Kemp’s Ridley sea turtlesare the rarest sea turtle in the world. They primarily nest on one beach on the Gulf coast of Mexico and are the smallest species of sea turtle. Scientists have been trying to transplant Kemp’s Ridley eggs to Texas to establish a new nesting colony. Ridley turtles are around 70 cm long, and up to 40 kg in weight. They are olive grey, while the plastron (underside) is yellowish/white. They live on shallow sand and mud, estuaries. they feed primarily on sponges.
The hawksbill sea turtle is usually found in the southern Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. The hawksbill sea turtle was hunted to near extinction for its beautiful shell which features overlapping scales.
The shell is thin, flexible and highly coloured with elaborate patterns. The carapace of the hawksbill is unusual amongst the marine turtles as the scutes (the hard, bony plates that constitute the shell) are overlapping. These are often streaked and marbled with amber, yellow or brown, most evident when the shell material is worked and polished. This species is the sole source of commercial “tortoise shell”. As the English name suggests, the hawksbill has a narrow pointed beak reminiscent of a bird of prey.
In the past, the hawksbill was thought be less migratory than the other species of marine turtle. However, more recent work involving satellite telemetry has revealed that the species does make long distance migrations. It is likely they use completely different areas for feeding and breeding. They are usually less than a meter in length and weigh 40-60 kg.
The scutes (scales of the shell) are often streaked and marbled with amber, yellow or brown.
Ways you can help Protect Sea Turtles
* Don’t litter on the beach!
*When diving, remove fishing line and other plastic things that may harm turtles like 6 pack plastic holders. Just stick them in your BCD
* Get involved! If you see someone with lights on, report them!
* Minimize beachfront lighting during the sea turtle nesting season by turning off, shielding, or redirecting lights.
* Close blinds and draperies in oceanfront rooms at night during the nesting season to keep indoor lighting from reaching the beach.
* Do not construct campfires on the beach. Sea turtle hatchlings are known to be attracted to the light emitted by campfires and crawl into fires and die.
* Use your natural vision when walking on the beach at night. The use of flashlights and flash photography can deter turtles from coming ashore to nest or cause them to abort nesting attempts.
* If you encounter a turtle on the beach at night, remain quiet, still, and at a distance, otherwise she may become frightened and return to the ocean without nesting.
* Leave the tracks left by turtles undisturbed. Researchers use the tracks to identify the species of turtle that nested and to find and mark the nests for protection.
* Properly dispose of your garbage. Turtles may mistake plastic bags, styrofoam, and trash floating in the water as food and die when this trash blocks their intestines.
* Celebrate events without the use of helium balloon releases. Like plastic trash, balloons end up in the ocean, especially when released near the coast. Sea turtles mistakenly eat the balloons and die.
* Remove recreational equipment, such as lounge chairs, cabanas, umbrellas, and boats, from the beach at night. Their presence can deter nesting attempts and interfere with the seaward journey of hatchlings.
* Protect beach vegetation that stabilizes sand and the natural coastline.
* When boating, stay alert and avoid sea turtles. Propeller and collision impacts from boats and ships can result in injury and death of sea turtles. Also, stay in channels and avoid running in seagrass beds to protect this important habitat from prop scarring and damage. Avoid anchoring boats in seagrass beds and coral reefs, which serve as important foraging and resting habitats for sea turtles.