March 20, 2013

Species Spotlight: the Kemp's Ridley Turtle

Meet the Kemp’s ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii). The Kemp’s ridley is both the smallest and most endangered of sea turtle species. At maturity, they are 2-2 ½  feet long and around 100 lbs. Their carapace (top shell) is usually almost as wide as it is long, giving it a very round shape. They are found almost exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Female Kemp's ridley after nesting on Sanibel Island in 2011.
Juveniles use the estuaries on the west coast of Florida as nursery areas. 95% of nesting occurs in Tamaulipas, Mexico along three main beaches. There is also some nesting in Texas and the occasional nest in Florida. Kemp’s ridleys are unique from the other turtles that are found in Florida’s waters in that they often nest during the day. On the beaches of Mexico, the Kemp’s ridley nests in large groups called arribadas.

March 13, 2013

Species Spotlight: the Green Turtle

Green turtle nesting on Sanibel at sunrise. (Photo by: A.Bryant)
Meet the green turtle (Chelonia mydas). As the only vegetarian sea turtle (in adulthood), they eat mostly sea grasses and algae. While not green in color, they are named for the green color of their fat. Green turtles are the largest of the hard-shelled turtles, often reaching over three feet in length and 300-350 pounds. They have an oval-shaped shell and a head that is small in proportion to their body. Hatchlings are typically dark grayish-black with a white underside and white edges to their carapace (top shell) and flippers.

Green turtle hatchling.
Green turtles are found worldwide. The estuaries in Southwest Florida provide nursery habitat for juveniles and our beaches provide nesting habitat. While loggerhead turtle nests make up the bulk of sea turtle nesting in the area, there are several green nests laid each year. Green turtles usually begin nesting in June and continue into September. Like all sea turtles, the green is protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is currently listed as endangered across its range.

March 5, 2013

Species Spotlight: the Loggerhead Turtle

Sea turtle news is always a bit slower in Southwest Florida this time of year. As we prepare for the upcoming nesting season, it’s a great time to learn a more about the sea turtle species found in Florida’s waters.  Today, meet the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). The loggerhead got its name from its large head, which supports strong jaws used to crush the whelks and conch it eats. They have a reddish brown carapace (top shell) and a pale yellow plastron (bottom shell). Loggerheads are approximately 3 feet long and typically weigh around 250 pounds. 

Rare daytime nesting loggerhead covering her nest. Photo by: A. Bryant
The nesting season for loggerhead turtles in Southwest Florida “officially” begins on May 1, although, some females have been known to nest in April. Nesting continues into late August or early September.  Females usually come ashore at night and lay an average of 100 leathery eggs that resemble ping-pong balls. Incubation lasts about two months. Hatchlings are two inches long and emerge at night. They crawl toward the brightest horizon, which is usually the water when there is no artificial lighting present.
Loggerhead turtles are found worldwide. The United States is the second most important nesting ground for this species. Florida is home to 90% of the loggerhead nesting in the U.S.

Loggerhead hatchling. Photo by: J. Jones

All sea turtle species are at risk of extinction. They are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The population of loggerhead turtles that nest in Southwest Florida are listed as threatened.