Marine Biology
sea turtles

Leatherback Sea Turtle Nesting Habits



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sea turtles
Effie Moore Salem's image for:
"Leatherback Sea Turtle Nesting Habits"
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The nesting habits of the leatherback sea turtles is the biggest reason they are continually being threatened with extinction. They nurse in the sand and in plain sight of humans. Although never having seen one, or even of knowing of their existence before this research effort, simply looking at pictures of them on the internet show how unusual they are is an interesting experience. They look like giant birds.

As do other similar sea creatures, they have flippers, but sea turtles have no claws on theirs; and comparing them to land creatures: they cannot bury their head under their carapaces as do tortoises. Their skin is not hard as other creatures of their kind are, but are of the softer variety, but are tough and leathery, thus their unique name.

Underneath their leathery bluish black looking skin, are layers of fat and connective tissue and a system of bony plates that fit together, somewhat in a puzzle pattern. These form the shell. When in the water they appear to be brown.

Throughout this outer shell or carapace, there are seven ridges running lengthwise and large pink dots with markings much reminiscent of human finger prints. The purpose of these is not known but some scientist believe they have something to do with light and reflections.

Leatherback sea turtles are fast swimmers. They soar and glide through the water as eagles might soar and glide through the air. They go great distances and for this very reason no one country can really claim them. They may nest in one area and soon after hatching be in another part of the world.

It is this international habitat of theirs that make their survival a problem. They have been on the ESL (Endangered Species List) since 1970. And sharing equally in this is the nature of the Leatherback while on land. After they hatch on a beach near the ocean, they look for brightness to guide them to their home in the sea. This normally is the reflection of light from the sea and they slowly make their way toward it.

Sometimes they don't get very far, some vulture, a hawk or a crow will snatch up these two or three inch long babies for a mid-morning snack.

At other times, and this is more likely to happen if their nest has been near a commercial site with bright lights, they may become confused and start moving away from the ocean. This makes them even more vulnerable to predators and to dehydration. On the other hand, their life is still not their own even when they manage to trudge the distance to the ocean, there hungry octopi and sharks may be their downfall.

Yet when they grow up they can hold their own with the other sea creatures. With their powerful fins they can ward off most attacks. It's getting them to this stage in their development that is critical.
Worldwide, the nesting females number approximately less than 35,000. The males never return to land and are not counted.

One thing in their favor is being listed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). People still remain the leatherback's biggest threat to their existence. In some places the eggs are eaten, and finding them is no problem since the turtles trails from water to nests can be easily seen.

The diet of the leatherback if interesting, if not down right slimy; they eat jelly fish and other gelatinous prey. Their mouth is designed with backward slanting spikes that slide the food on down the throat once it is in the mouth.

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