The green sea turtle is a sea turtle, possessing a dorsoventrally flattened body covered by a large, teardrop-shaped carapace and a pair of large, paddle-like flippers. It is usually lightly colored, although parts of the carapace can be almost black in the eastern Pacific. Unlike other members of its family, such as the hawksbill sea turtle and loggerhead sea turtle, C. mydas is mostly herbivorous. The adults commonly inhabit shallow lagoons, feeding mostly on various species of seagrasses.
Like other sea turtles, they migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. Many islands worldwide are known asTurtle Island due to green sea turtles nesting on their beaches. Females crawl out on beaches, dig nests and lay eggs during the night. Later, hatchlings emerge and walk into the water. Those that reach maturity may live to age 80 in the wild.
C. mydas is listed as endangered by the IUCN and CITES and is protected from exploitation in most countries. It is illegal to collect, harm or kill them. In addition, many countries have laws and ordinances to protect nesting areas. However, turtles are still in danger because of several human practices. In some countries, turtles and their eggs are hunted for food. Pollution indirectly harms turtles at both population and individual scales. Many turtles die caught in fishing nets. Also, real estate development often causes habitat loss by eliminating nesting beaches.
The range of C. mydas extends throughout tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. There are two major subpopulations, the Atlantic and the eastern Pacific subpopulations. Each population is genetically distinct, with their own set of nesting and feeding grounds within the population's known range.
Ecology and behaviorEdit
As one of the first sea turtle species studied, much of what is known of sea turtle ecology comes from studies of green turtles. The ecology ofC. mydas changes drastically with each stage of its life history. Newly emerged hatchlings are carnivorous, pelagic organisms, part of the open ocean mininekton. In contrast, immature juveniles and adults are commonly found in seagrass meadows closer inshore as herbivorous grazers.
Green sea turtles move across three habitat types, depending on their life stage. They lay eggs on beaches. Mature turtles spend most of their time in shallow, coastal waters with lush seagrass beds. Adults frequent inshore bays, lagoons and shoals with lush seagrass meadows. Entire generations often migrate between one pair of feeding and nesting areas.
Turtles spend most of their first five years in convergence zones within the open ocean. These young turtles are rarely seen as they swim in deep, pelagic waters. Green sea turtles typically swim at 2.5-3kph (0.7-0.8 m/s).
Only human beings and the larger sharks feed on C. mydas adults. Specifically, tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) hunt adults in Hawaiian waters. Juveniles and new hatchlings have significantly more predators, including crabs, small marine mammals and shorebirds. In Turkey, their eggs are vulnerable to predation by red foxes and golden jackals.
At around 45 to 75 days, the eggs hatch during the night, and the hatchlings instinctively head directly into the water. This is the most dangerous time in a turtle's life. As they walk, predators, such as gulls and crabs, grab them. A significant percentage never make it to the ocean. Little is known of the initial life history of newly hatched sea turtles. Juveniles spend three to five years in the open ocean before they settle as still-immature juveniles into their permanent shallow-water lifestyle. It is speculated that they take twenty to fifty years to reach sexual maturity. Individuals live up to eighty years in the wild.
Each year on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, C. mydas females create 6,000 to 15,000 nests. They are among the largest green turtles in the world; many are more than a meter in length and weigh up to 300 kilograms (660 lb).
Breathing and sleepEdit
Sea turtles spend almost all their lives submerged, but must breathe air for the oxygen needed to meet the demands of vigorous activity. With a single explosive exhalation and rapid inhalation, sea turtles can quickly replace the air in their lungs. The lungs permit a rapid exchange of oxygen and prevent gases from being trapped during deep dives. Sea turtle blood can deliver oxygen efficiently to body tissues even at the pressures encountered during diving. During routine activity, green and loggerhead turtles dive for about four to five minutes, and surface to breathe for one to three seconds.
Turtles can rest or sleep underwater for several hours at a time, but submergence time is much shorter while diving for food or to escape predators. Breath-holding ability is affected by activity and stress, which is why turtles quickly drown in shrimp trawlers and other fishing gear.
Importance to humansEdit
Commercial farms, such as the Cayman Turtle Farm in the West Indies, once bred them for commercial sale from eggs removed from nests below the waterline. The farms held as many as 100,000 turtles at any one time. When the markets were closed by regulations that did not allow even farm-bred turtles to be sold, the surviving farms became tourist attractions, supporting 11,000 turtles.
In recent decades, sea turtles have moved from unrestricted exploitation to global protection, with individual countries providing additional protection, although serious threats remain unabated.
In 2001, Nicholas Mrosovsky filed a delisting petition, claiming some green turtle populations were large, stable and in some cases, increasing. At the time, the species was listed under the strict EN A1abd criteria. The IUCN Standards and Petitions Subcommittee ruled that visual counts of nesting females could not be considered "direct observation" and thus downgraded the species' status to EN A1bd—retaining the turtle's endangered status.
In 2004, the IUCN reclassified C. mydas as endangered under the EN A2bd criteria, which essentially states the wild populations face a high risk of extinction because of several factors. These factors include a probable population reduction of more than 50% over the past decade as estimated from abundance indices and by projecting exploitation levels.
On May 3, 2007, C. mydas was listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as a member of the family Cheloniidae. The species was originally listed on Appendix II in 1975. The entire family was moved to Appendix I in 1977, with the exception of the Australian population of C. mydas. In 1981, the Australian population joined the rest. It is therefore illegal to import, export, kill, capture or harass green turtles.
The Mediterranean population is listed as critically endangered. The eastern Pacific, Hawaiian and Southern California subpopulations are designated threatened. Specific Mexican subpopulations are listed as endangered. The Florida population is listed as endangered. The World Wide Fund for Nature has labeled populations in Pakistan as "rare and declining".
Ecotourism is one initiative in Sabah, Malaysia. The island of Pulau Selingan is home to a turtle hatchery. Staff people place some of the eggs laid each night in a hatchery to protect them from predators. Incubation takes around sixty days. When the eggs hatch, tourists assist in the release of the baby turtles into the sea. In the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and National Marine Fisheries Serviceclassify C. mydas as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, rendering it a federal offense to capture or kill an individual turtle. The Hawaiian subpopulation has made a remarkable comeback and is now one focus of ecotourism and has become something of a state mascot. Students of Hawaii Preparatory Academy Ascension Island in the South Atlanticon the Big Island have tagged thousands of specimens since the early 1990s. In the United Kingdom the species is protected by a Biodiversity Action Plan, due to excess harvesting and marine pollution. The Pakistani-branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature has been initiating projects for secure turtle hatching since the 1980s. However, the population has continued to decline.
In the Atlantic, conservation initiatives have centered around Caribbean nesting sites. The Tortuguero nesting beaches in Costa Rica have been the subject of egg-collection limits since the 1950s. The Tortuguero National Park was formally established in 1976, in part, to protect that region's nesting grounds. On Ascension Island, which contains some of the most important nesting beaches, an active conservation program has been implemented., Karumbé has been monitoring foraging and developmental areas of juvenile green turtles in Uruguay since 1999.