As the sun slowly hid in the distant horizon, an unexpected surprised started to unfold in a nearby sand nest. Miniature, small hatchlings were surfacing from a Hawksbill or tortoiseshell turtle nest. Hawksbill sea turtles are named for their mouth appearance; it looks like a Hawk’s beak. Perhaps, it may have taken only a couple of months to hatch from the thousands of eggs beneath the egg chamber. But they finally made it out.
Although one in 10,000 newly born turtles make it to the shoreline of the open ocean waters, it will start to crawl and use its flippers to move across the sand. The journey is not easy. Many predators seek an easy meal as they wander around the beach. Raccoons, crabs and birds feed on these helpless hatchlings. Even raccoons dig for Hawksbill eggs, sometimes eating all of them.
Humans are a main concern for these endangered species. Places like Malaysia and the Caribbean use the turtle shells for jewelry and decorations. In fact, they even eat the eggs as a food delicacy or use them for medicine. But that’s not all. Hotel lights and beach house lights, although illuminate the night at beaches; they unfortunately, disorient female turtles and hatchlings as they seek the ocean waters. Beach house construction disrupts the nesting processes of the female turtles.
Hawksbill sea turtles as well as the other 7 species of sea turtles return to the origin of birth in beaches to lay their eggs. When construction along the beaches obstructs their pathway to the sea, it makes it difficult for female turtles to lay their eggs.
Pollution also impedes them to lay their eggs on the sandy beaches. Plastic bags, waste, oil, and other chemical spillage are hazardous not only to the sea turtles trying to embark on their journey to their habitat of coral reefs but to all marine life. Plastic bags, in particular, can be dangerous. Sea turtles may confuse them for appetizing jellyfish.
Hawksbill sea turtles can also feed on sea grass, sponges, corallimorphians and zoanthids. Fishing nets pose a danger to sea turtles. Many of them get tangled, making it harder for them to escape. However, many fish boats are now utilizing the TED (Turtle Exclusion Device) method, which allows them to escape from an open area when accidentally stuck in a net. If the small Hawksbill sea turtle, against all odds, makes it to the beach shoreline, it will try to swim its way to its natural habitats – the coral reefs.
There it will grow and develop a brown and yellow, spiky carapace or shell. And, it may grow to be as big as 100 pounds and 30 inches long. Amazingly, it will navigate through rough ocean waters until it reaches the currents. Sea turtles use the ocean currents as their navigational compass to travel from one region to another.
They may travel as much as 1,400 miles to reach their original birthplace. When female turtles arrive at their beach destination, every 2 years to nest, they lay as many as 160 clutches of eggs, unaware of the many dangers ahead. Predators and pollution have caused the population of Hawksbill turtles to decline by 80% worldwide in the last 105 years.
Biologists and conservationists are making efforts that these sea turtles do not go extinct. They work hard to educate about conservation and preservation methods for the 8,000 nests recorded around the world. Sea turtles are an essential part of the ecosystem, the living area that surrounds the beaches and the ocean where all different species coexist.
When they lay their eggs on the sand, they nourish the nearby plant roots, preventing beach erosion. When sea turtles feed on sea grass, they promote healthy living for other species in the water that use sea grass as their home. When sea turtles are not able to nest on beaches, it greatly sends a signal of the conditions of the area.
Have you seen turtle nesting sites in your area?