Sea Turtles in Florida
There are only two marine reptiles on the Atlantic coast which live in salt water - the crocodile and the sea turtle. Both sea turtles and crocodiles lay eggs which hatch on land.
Sea turtles have heavy necks, which cannot be pulled completely into their shells. Their legs are modified to paddle like flippers. They must come to the surface to breathe air, but some can breath in water, extracting oxygen from water with gill like structures.
There are five species of sea turtle on the Atlantic coast. The Loggerhead, which we see the most of in Florida. The Green and Leatherback, which also nest in Florida. The Hawksbill rarely nests anywhere in North America, and the Kemp's Ridley, the smallest sea turtle.
Sea turtles are protected by both the 1973 Federal Endangered Species Act and the Florida Marine Protection Act. It is against the law to touch or disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings, or their nests.
The Loggerhead (caretta caretta) turtle grows up to three feet long and weighs anywhere from 200 to 350 pounds (by some accounts up to 500 pounds). It has powerful jaws that allow it to crush crustaceans and mollusks which it eats. It also enjoys jellyfish and sponges. The loggerhead is reddish brown on top and nests in the summer from New Jersey to Texas. It is listed as threatened both by the state and by the federal government.
The loggerhead's track on the beach is about three feet wide and has alternating flipper tracks on the side.
The Green turtle (chelonia mydas) has long been sought for it's shells which are made into jewelry. The skin has been made into leather, and the meat made into soup. Mariners kept green turtles on board ships for months for fresh turtle soup. The eggs were also robbed from it's nests for their aphrodisiac qualities.
Besides hunting and nest robbing, the population has been reduced drastically because of beach development (bulkheads, jetties, and night lights all of which hinder successful nesting and hatching.)
Green turtles are endangered.
They are found generally between 35 degrees north latitude and 35 degrees south latitude and nest in Florida. For the first year of life they are carnivorous and after that they are herbivorous.
Green turtles grow up to four feet and with up to 500 pounds. The top of their shells are brownish in color (the name comes from the green color of it's fat).
The green turtle's track on the beach is wider than a loggerhead (about four feet wide) without the alternating flipper tracks on the side. Their is a tail trail down the center of the track (due to the longer tail of the green turtle, it drags in the sand).
Leatherback turtles (dermochelys coriacea) are the largest of our sea turtles. They can grow six to eight feet and weigh (by various accounts) from 650 to 1500 pounds. They are torpedo shaped with large flippers and leathery shells (the only sea turtle without a hard shell) which are black or bluish black on top.
They are big travelers moving from Canada to South America and nest primarily in the Caribbean, rarely in Florida. They feed on Jellyfish primarily, but also eat fish.
They have been hunted for oil in their shell and bones and are listed as endangered by both the federal and state governments.
The leatherback's tracks in the sand are considerably wider than either the loggerhead or the green - about six feet wide.
The Hawksbill turtle (eretmochelys imbricata) are about three feet long and weigh 100 - 160 pounds. They are most abundant in the Caribbean and rarely nest in North America. They don't travel as much as the green turtle, preferring to hang around one area. The feed on algae, grass, fish, sponges, sea urchins, and Portuguese man-of-war.
They are endangered worldwide because they were hunted because of their spotty brown shell with tortoise pattern, which has been made into tortoise shell jewelry.
Kemp's Ridleys Turtle
The Kemp's Ridleys turtle (lepidochelys kempi) is the smallest endangered sea turtle. It grows up to three feed long and weighs from 78 - 100 pounds. The top is olive green and the lower shell is yellow.