COLLEGE STATION, Texas—June 16th is World Sea Turtle Day—and what better time to dive deep into the world of these iconic creatures than on their very own holiday?
Seven different species of sea turtles occupy the world’s oceans, and their ranges, appearances and diets can differ widely. However, one characteristic links all sea turtles: they are at risk from rising ocean temperatures, accidental bycatch, destruction of nesting habitat and other threats. These factors contribute to declining sea turtle populations worldwide.
World Sea Turtle Day provides an opportunity to learn about turtles and about the various conservation efforts ongoing worldwide to protect them.
“World Sea Turtle Day is a wonderful time to honor these resilient ocean animals and the conservation programs that have protected their eggs and offspring at nesting beaches, and reduced their accidental capture in commercial fisheries,” said Dr. Pamela Plotkin, director of Texas Sea Grant and longtime sea turtle researcher.
Sea turtles can be found along the coasts of all continents except for Antarctica. Because sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, meaning that they rely on the temperature of their environment to regulate their internal body temperature, they are best suited for life in tropical and subtropical waters. However, many turtles, including the green turtle and loggerhead turtle, transit the world’s temperate zones while feeding and migrating. The hawksbill turtle and olive ridley turtle, by contrast, generally stay within tropical and subtropical waters.
Some sea turtles travel vast distances while others occupy relatively small areas. The flatback turtle, for example, lives only along the coast of Australia. In contrast, the leatherback turtle has the widest range of all sea turtles; they can be found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Leatherbacks can travel over 10,000 miles each year while traveling between feeding areas and nesting grounds.
Sea turtles have other stark differences as well. The Kemp’s ridley turtle—Texas’ state sea turtle—is the smallest species of sea turtle: they grow to be two feet long and can weigh between 70 and 100 pounds. Leatherbacks, by comparison, can grow to be six feet long and weigh up to 1,000 pounds.
Texas is home to five of the world’s sea turtle species, and encounters with turtles occur along the coast from Galveston to South Padre Island. While turtles should not be disturbed, sightings can be reported using iSeaTurtle, a mobile app that provides vital information to scientists at Texas A&M University to monitor sea turtles in the Gulf.
Unfortunately, not all sea turtle encounters are innocuous. In Texas, sea turtles rarely come onto land unless they are nesting, infirm, or dead. Occasionally, anglers and beachgoers may encounter sea turtles in distress—and in some cases, sea turtles can accidentally be caught while fishing. In these cases, it is best to call the Sea Turtle Hotline at 1-866-887-8535 (1-866-TURTLE-5) for guidance on how to approach the situation.