Explore by Animal
Green Sea Turtle
Green sea turtles are so named because a) their shells are green; b) their body fat is green; or c) hiding in seagrass makes them appear green. The answer is b. The strictly herbivorous diet of the adults turns their fat green. Now there’s an excuse to not eat your spinach!
Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) can grow to 500 pounds. Their light armor and powerful flippers help them swim far and fast. Oxygen reserves allow them to dive without surfacing for 30 minutes and even sleep underwater for more than two hours without breathing. They can also cry, not to express sadness, but to shed excess salt through the eyes.
When females mate every few years, they must return to land several times to lay eggs. Skilled navigators, they amazingly voyage hundreds—even thousands—of miles to revisit their own birthplace as a nesting beach. This feat is one of the animal kingdom’s greatest mysteries. After hatching, the 1-ounce babies collectively scrape their way out of the nest, waiting for nighttime when it’s safe to emerge. Then they head for the brightest horizon to find the ocean—if they don’t get eaten or lost first. Only an estimated one in 1,000 will survive to adulthood.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists green sea turtles as threatened. Their greatest danger? Humans. Artificial lights confuse the ocean-bound babies, causing them to lose their way. Adults are exploited for food, oil, leather and jewelry. Real estate development eliminates their nesting habitat. Castoff plastic bags, fishing line and other trash can suffocate, strangle, or otherwise harm the animals. And there are no international laws to protect wild populations. They may hatch in a safe zone, then migrate to where they can be carelessly hunted.
Whether we live or vacation near a nesting beach, we can all help. Properly disposing of trash, turning the lights off between May and July, or supporting sea turtle rescue organizations are just three small examples. Nickel, our rehabbed turtle from Florida, survived a boat accident that left her swimming with her head down and rump up. Despite her buoyant back end, you can see this otherwise healthy turtle in the Caribbean Reef.