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article imageFive fascinating facts that you may not know about sea turtles

By Megan Hamilton     Jul 18, 2015 in Environment
Each year, in its quest for tasty jellyfish, the leatherback sea turtle travels an astounding 10,000 miles crossing the entire Pacific Ocean, in a journey that stretches from Asia to the U.S. West Coast from Washington to California.
That's according to, and these massive turtles, which can weigh up to 800 pounds, have been doing this for at least 150 million years, long before the extinction of the dinosaurs.
A Pacific Leatherback turtle  one of the largest species of marine turtles.
A Pacific Leatherback turtle, one of the largest species of marine turtles.
For all seven sea turtle species, life is a long series of migrations, and they live in the world's tropical and sub-tropical oceans, the Sea Turtle Conservancy notes.
With that in mind, let's get on to the first fascinating fact about sea turtles.
1. Magnetite crystals, found in the brains of these ocean travelers, play a key role in helping them navigate. The magnetite acts like a compass, allowing them to use the earth's magnetic fields to make their way over long distances, Sea Turtle Inc. reports. This enables them to locate feeding grounds and nesting grounds.
Kemp s Ridley is an extremely endangered Sea Turtle. The US National Park Service every year hatches...
Kemp's Ridley is an extremely endangered Sea Turtle. The US National Park Service every year hatches these turtles and releases them to the sea after incubation to help increase their numbers. Seen here is an annual "Sea Turtle Hatchling Release" event at Padre Island National Seashore.
As they swim out to sea, the tiny hatchlings imprint on chemical, magnetic, and astronomical cues of the beach where they were born, making it possible for them to return as adults to the very same beach as adults.
2. Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) can dive as deep as 4,000 feet. The only animals to dive deeper than that are sperm whales, beaked whales, and elephant seals, SeeTurtles reports.
3. Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are able to stay under water for up to five hours even though they only spend about five minutes (or less) while on a feeding dive, Defenders of Wildlife reports. To conserve oxygen, their heart rate slows down; up to nine minutes may elapse between heartbeats.
4. These turtles exhibit interesting behavior that isn't found often in other sea turtle species. Adult green sea turtles are large herbivores (they can grow as large as five feet long and weigh up to 700 pounds) and feed on sea grasses and algae, National Geographic reports. The kids, on the other hand, also eat crabs, jellyfish, and sponges.
Another quirk: Eastern Pacific green turtles like to haul up on land to bask in the sun and have been observed on occasion sunbathing next to seals and albatrosses. Most sea turtle species prefer to warm themselves by swimming near the surface in shallow waters, only leaving the waters to nest. The green turtle is one of the only sea turtle species known to leave the water at times other than when it is nesting.
5. The olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) gained its name because its skin and shell (or carapace) is greenish in color, and it's closely related to the Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii.) The main difference here, is that olive ridleys are only found in warmer waters, and this includes the southern Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, National Geographic reports.
Already endangered  Kemp’s ridley sea turtles  have declined primarily due to human activities say...
Already endangered, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, have declined primarily due to human activities says report.
United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)
These turtles are the smallest of the sea turtles, and only weigh up to 100 pounds. The length of the shell is about two feet, which makes them seem tiny compared to the leatherback turtle.
The only sad fact about these wonderful creatures is that their numbers are declining, and it's largely due to us. In just a span of 100 years, sea turtle populations have been plundered for their meat, eggs, skin, and beautiful shells, the Sea Turtle Conservancy reports here. Destruction of feeding and nesting habitats, accompanied by pollution of our oceans are having a devastating effect on turtle populations, and many breeding populations have already become extinct.
The conservancy reports:
"There could be a time in the near future when sea turtles are just an oddity found only in aquariums and natural history museums — unless action is taken today."
Fortunately, national laws such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) lists hawksbill, leatherback, Kemp's ridley, and green sea turtle as endangered, while the loggerhead is listed as threatened. This means it is illegal to harm, harass, or kill sea turtles, their hatchlings, or their eggs. It's also illegal to import, sell, or transport these turtles or their products. In the water, they are protected by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and while they are on land, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for their protection. Other countries have laws and regulations that apply as well, the Conservancy reports.
There are international agreements in place to protect turtles. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which controls trade in endangered and threatened species has listed sea turtles under Appendix I of this agreement, and as such, they receive protection from international trade by all countries that have signed the treaty.
The conservancy lists goals that can help protect turtles, including:
• Cracking down on the illegal international trade in sea turtles and their products by enforcing laws and agreements.
• Decreasing deaths of turtles due to commercial fishing by enforcing Turtle Excluder Devices (TED) and regulating gill nets.
• Protecting beaches where turtles nest by establishing parks and refuges or through establishing regulations combined with public education initiatives.
• Enforcing national and international laws that minimize the dumping of pollutants and solid waste into our oceans and nearshore waters.
If you are interested in helping these marvelous creatures, Defenders of Wildlife has some useful suggestions.
Sea turtles are truly remarkable creatures. If we're lucky, we'll be able to share the planet with them for years to come, but it's entirely obvious that we will need to work hard to do so.
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