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The life-cycle of a sea turtle
Turtles have been around for 120 million years, they are one of the oldest creatures to roam the planet alongside crocodiles.
There are now 7 species of sea turtle, which can be found in every ocean except the Antarctic. Unfortunately some species of turtle have already gone extinct, and the 7 that remain are all threatened with extinction. From birth, a turtle hatchling faces many challenges. Initially the young sea turtle will have to use its specialised egg tooth to break out of its shell buried deep within the sand and make the long journey to the surface, to reach freedom. This poor defenceless youngster is independent from day one and still has many challenges to face before reaching the vast ocean where it will spend the rest of its life.
The journey from the beach to the sea can be a very difficult one, meaning that only 1 in every 1,000 turtle hatchlings will survive to adulthood. Manoeuvring dangerous mountains of sand and avoiding precarious predators, the tiny turtles will have to move fast in order to avoid becoming a tasty snack. Crabs, birds and mammals will all take advantage of the mass rush. The lucky few who reach the safety of the ocean will still have to avoid sharks, large fish and countless other predators. The next decade is spent entirely at sea where the turtle will develop the essential skills it needs to survive. These are known as “the lost years” as, more often than not, we do not know where turtles travel in this period of time. Adult sea turtles will eat a range of foods such as sea grasses, algae and sometimes even jellyfish.
It can be anywhere up to 50 years before turtles reach sexual maturity and start to breed. Females will then return to the beaches from which they were born to lay eggs. Males will migrate annually to find new feeding and mating grounds. Unsurprisingly the turtles can spend long periods of time holding their breath underwater, drinking the sea water as they go along. They use earth’s magnetic field to create a mental map, which female sea turtles will use to journey back to their birth grounds. Females will return every 2 to 3 years to lay another clutch of eggs. For such a heavy animal, it can be a struggle, but the further away from the sea the eggs are laid, the less likely they are to be washed away with the encroaching tide. The female sea turtle will then use the power of her immense flippers to chuck sand over the eggs, patting it down as she goes to ensure the safety of her clutch. The mother can spend hours laying the eggs and resting afterwards. After 40-60 days, depending on the species, the eggs will hatch and the process will start all over again.