Caretta caretta, where you been so long?
It’s April and we’re gearing up for one of the many wonders of the world, loggerhead sea turtle nesting season. Loggerheads are the largest shelled sea turtle around with adults reaching up to 3 feet in length and weighing in at 300 lbs.!1 Here in the US, beaches along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida are home to up to 90,000 nests a year, contributing about 40% of the worlds’ loggerhead population.2 With females laying several nests each season with about a hundred eggs in each nest, you might think the Atlantic would be totally overrun with loggerheads. Unfortunately, these guys are threatened with extinction. Only about 1 in 4,000 baby sea turtles hatched in Florida make it to adulthood.3
From about April to August females drag their hefty selves out of the ocean onto beaches where they lay their eggs in a depression in the sand that they excavate with their flippers. After about 60 days of heating up under the sand, tiny 2-inch long loggerheads hatch out and make their way to the ocean.2
After loggerheads hit the ocean, they are out there for a long time and won’t return to the Atlantic coast for 6 to 12 years. Folks didn’t know where they went for so long but now we know a lot more about where they go and how they perform their amazing 8,000 mile long-distance migration across the Atlantic. Loggerheads travel across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and back again using an inherited magnetic map to guide them along earth’s magnetic field and taking advantage of ocean currents like the Gulf Stream, which help them to travel faster and with less effort.3
Sea turtles have a lot of problems to deal with. Apart from being totally edible 2 in. turtles, tens of thousands of them are killed or injured by fishing lines and traps yearly. Also, nesting populations all along the Atlantic are in decline.4 Conservation efforts like placing wire cages over nests to keep predators away can also have a negative impact by messing with hatchling magnetic maps.3 These guys need our help! So have the TED (Turtle Exclusion Device) talk with your local fisherfolk, take up sea turtle research, or volunteer at a nesting beach if you can.
Powerfact!: Hundreds of species of animals and 37 types of algae can live on the back of a single loggerhead! These guys are like mobile reefs supporting an entire community of organisms.5