Florida’s coastal waters play host, at various times of the year to five different species of sea turtle all of which are endangered or on the brink of being classified as such. The five species are;
Loggerhead Turtle – the most common of the sea turtle species which visit Florida’s shores (around 70, 000 nests found each year), the loggerhead is currently considered threatened rather than endangered. Taking its name from its wide head the loggerhead has powerful jaws to enable it to crush the crabs, clams and similar creatures upon which it feeds
Hawksbill Turtle – sports a beautiful shell which has contributed to it almost being hunted to extinction, when once it was commonly found on these coasts.
Green Turtle – again endangered in Florida, this turtle has been hunted for its meat which is turned into a much sought after soup. More common in the Caribbean, this turtle has been known to travel over one thousand miles to islands in mid-atlantic to mate.
Kemp’s Ridley – very rare and very small and once again endangered, this turtles Florida habitat is limited to a tiny beach on the Gulf of Mexico coastline.
Leatherback Turtle – by far the largest of the turtles that visit us, growing up to 8 feet in length, there have been around 200 recorded nests per year. They have a far greater range than other turtles, having been known to swim thousands of miles venturing into much colder waters.
Turtle nesting is a sight many of us will be familiar with from watching wildlife programmes, but is none the less still awe-inspiring. Nesting begins in May, with individual nests hatching until October. A female will only nest every few years, but may nest several times in a single season. Each nest will contain around 100 eggs, the female turtle having made its tortuous journey up the beach, digging a hole for the eggs then covering the hole with sand. The female turtle then returns to the sea, leaving the future hatchlings to their fate. After two months of incubation, those hatchlings escape from their shells, wriggle out of the nest and make a dash for the sea, all the while a target for waiting predators. Those that make it to the relative safety of the water will spend several years living on offshore seaweed beds before returning to the coast to begin the cycle all over again.