When most Connecticut residents think about sea turtles, visions of tropical beaches and crystal blue oceans dance thru their heads. Rarely do they think about Long Island Sound. And why would they? Connecticut is anything but a tropical climate. However, of the twelve species of turtles occurring in Connecticut, four are sea turtles. These ambassadors of the ocean grace Connecticut’s coast at some point during the warmer weather months on route to the Southern coast and South American region.
The Green Sea Turtle, who is the vegetarian of the four, is considered a threatened species on both the federal and state level. Those lucky enough to make it to adulthood can weigh as much as 600 pounds. Little is known about the life expectancy but it is believed that the Green Sea Turtle, along with the others, can live as long as 50 year or more. Sexual maturity is reached at 4 to 6 years of age in the tropical regions and 5 to 13 years of age in temperate regions. A female turtle can lay as many as 75 to 200 eggs per clutch and it is not uncommon for her to lay up to seven clutches per season. However, Green Sea Turtles do not breed every year and may go as long as four years between breeding cycles.
The Loggerhead Sea Turtle is also threatened on both the federal and state level. Unlike the Green Sea Turtle that prefers shallow waters and reefs, the Loggerhead is more at home in the open ocean waters and estuaries. Weighing as much as 1000 pounds, this giant of a turtle likes to dine on jellyfish, sponges, shellfish, shrimp, squid, sea urchins and occasionally seaweed. The female becomes sexually mature at 6 to 7 years old and tend to lay eggs every two to three years. Typically, two to three clutches of 35 to 108 eggs are laid.
The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle is the smallest of the four weighing in at only 80 to 100 pounds. It is also commonly mistaken for the Loggerhead. Preferring red mangrove, shallow, and estuarine waters, the Ridley dines on spider crabs and similar hard shelled marine creatures, but will occasionally feed on plants. Unlike the other two, this sea turtle is considered endangered both federally and state-wide. The Ridley nests 3 times each season between the months of April and June on beaches located in Mexico. Sometimes, they have been seen nesting on the Padre Island of Texas. The females, when sexually mature, tend to nest every one to three years. Clutches average around 110 eggs.
The largest of the four is the Leatherback Sea Turtle. Preferring waters in the continental shelf and shallow estuaries of the Northern area, the Leatherback can weight between 650 to 1200 pounds. This turtle feeds mostly on jellyfish but will also consume sea urchins, crustaceans, squid, fish and floating seaweed. Like the Ridley, it is also endangered both federally and state-wide. The female, reaching sexual maturity between 6 to 10 years old, can lay up to six clutches each season. Interestingly, the female may re-nest as much as 7 miles away from the her first nest. An average of 80 to 85 eggs are laid per clutch.
A few years back when Al Gore published “An inconvenient truth”, the sea turtle was thrown into the spot light as a victim of global warming. But global warming was and still is the least of their worries.
Baby sea turtles, when first hatched, suffer a very low life expectancy due to predators waiting for them to scamper from their nests to the ocean unprotected. This is just the way of nature. But because of human being’s selfish ways, the chief reason behind the threatened and endangered status of all sea turtles, including the four mentioned here, is human interference. Habitat destruction, fishing tackles and lines, poaching of nesting sites, trash deposited into the oceans, etc… are all contributing factors to the dangerously low numbers of today’s sea turtle population.
So what can you do to help save the sea turtle from possible extinction? The following tips come courtesy the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection:
You can help sea turtles by not purchasing illegal turtle products, such as turtle leather and tortoise-shell items, and by properly disposing of or recycling plastic bags, fishing line and balloons. In an effort to help curb the problem of balloons in Long Island Sound, Connecticut has passed legislation limiting helium balloon releases to no more than 9 in a 24-hour period. With the help of a little wind, even balloons released in Connecticut’s inland areas can end up in the Sound.
Many sea turtles are tagged for research with metal or plastic markers. Tags are usually on the inside edge of the front flippers; sometimes the rear flippers or the shell may be tagged. If you observe a tagged turtle, do not remove any tags unless the turtle is dead. Tag numbers should be reported to the address on the tag or to the Wildlife Division’s Nonharvested Wildlife Program, 391 Route 32, North Franklin, CT 06254, (203)642-7239.
To see pictures of just how selfish human beings can be, watch the You Tube video “The real reason why sea turtles are becoming extinct” accompanying this article.