What exactly are sea turtles? We think of them as the mariners of the sea. And they have superpowers!
But let’s start at the beginning. First, what are they?
Well, they are reptiles that breathe air, even though they live in the ocean. Second, they are in the same group of cold-blooded animals which includes snakes (learn more about this misunderstood reptile at our “Snakes” page) and crocodiles. Also, they hatch from eggs laid in the sand by the female.
So how do they breathe in the ocean? Good question.
Living in the ocean has its challenges, especially since sea turtles need air to breathe. While swimming or hunting for food, they generally surface for air every 5 to 40 minutes. Hmmm, that seems like a long time to hold your breath.
Think about it. How long can you hold your breath? Thirty seconds? Maybe a minute? The average person can hold their breath for 30-120 seconds with the world record just over 22 minutes.
But it gets even more amazing. Sea turtles, depending on the species, can hold their breath for 4-7 hours when resting. Hours, not minutes! An incredible superpower.
Navigation using magnetic force
Who is the best mariner ever? Think about all the great sailors: Cousteau, Ellen MacArthur, Blackbeard the pirate, Sir Peter Blake and tons of others. OK, I admit I haven’t heard of all of these folks.
But we think the honor should go to the almighty sea turtle. Why you might ask?
Sea turtles navigate using the earth’s magnetic force to guide them. Much like foxes use the same magnetic force to hunt their prey (read our blog A Foxy Way To Use Earth’s Magnetic Field).
Swimming over 10,000 miles a year, they return to the same beach every year to lay their eggs. How do they know where to go? The turtles use the invisible lines of the earth’s magnetic field much like a sailor uses a compass.
This internal “compass” guides them through the oceans and leads them back to their nesting beach, often where they were born. A true superpower making them the greatest mariners of all time!
Sea turtle facts
There are 7 species, 6 of which live in North American waters. Can you name the different species? (Answer at the end).
Males almost never leave the water but females come ashore to lay their eggs. After digging a hole in the sand with their flippers, they lay 80-120 eggs and then cover them back up with sand.
About 60 days later, tiny turtles emerge and make a run for the ocean, hoping not to get eaten by a seagull or other predator. Watching the babies hatch is one of the greatest joys in life.
Since it is estimated that only one in a thousand babies survive to become an adult, it is so special to see one. Plus they can live to be 100 years old, making them even more extraordinary.
Sea turtles make your life better!
So what good are they other than magnificent to watch? And why should I care?
If you have ever been to the beach and experienced jellyfish, you know it can be a painful encounter (See our Explore & Learn Jellyfish). Sea turtles help keep the jellyfish population from exploding. Jellyfish just happens to be one of their favorite foods!
Also, our beaches need all the help they can get to prevent erosion due to climate change causing our seas to rise. Because the turtles nest on the dunes of the beach, the leftover eggshells, unhatched eggs and hatchlings that sometimes don’t make it out of the nest provide nutrients for the plants on the dunes. The plants become stronger and provide better dune protection.
They also keep seagrasses and coral reefs healthy by grazing on them (kinda like lawnmowers). This, in turn, keeps all the fish relying on these seabeds healthier. We truly are all connected.
Become a sea turtle champion
Almost all species of sea turtles are endangered with several critically endangered. Habitat destruction, overfishing and climate change are all having a negative effect on turtle populations.
However, on the good news front, some populations are rebounding due to massive efforts to protect them. So how can you help? Even if you don’t live at the beach, there are things you can do.
First, try not to use plastics and recycle when you do. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags floating in the ocean for jellyfish and then get sick, or even die from eating them.
What to do if you find a baby sea turtle?
Finding a baby sea turtle on the beach is one of the most amazing things. To watch this tiny just-hatched baby scurry through the sand to get to the ocean is one of Mother Nature’s miracles.
And while we might think we should help it along, the best thing you can do is watch in wonder. For some tips to help it, without touching it which is illegal, check out our “The Magic of a Baby Sea Turtle”.
Buy a sculpture to help sea turtles
Donate to organizations that support sea turtle conservation. One of the organizations we recommend is Defenders of Wildlife.
We have partnered with them on one of Dale’s sculptures, The Awakening, which depicts baby loggerhead turtles hatching from their eggs. You can learn more about this bronze sculpture on our sculpture page.
All proceeds will be donated to Defenders of Wildlife to help sea turtles. A win-win!
Smithsonian Ocean Find Your Blue Series: Sea Turtles. An interesting article on some of the superpowers of sea turtles and a description of each species.
How Do Sea Turtles Find The Exact Beach Where They Were Born? A National Geographic article about loggerhead turtles using magnetic fields to navigate.
Threats To Sea Turtles by Sea Turtle Conservancy
10 places where you can watch sea turtles hatch Learn where you can watch them hatch.
Answer to the question: Can you name the 7 species? Green, Loggerhead, Leatherback, Olive ridley, Hawksbill, Flatback & Kemp’s ridley.
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