Is there anything more magical and humbling than swimming side by side with one of the oldest creatures on the planet? Sea turtles have called the ocean home for over a hundred million years, and are beloved by divers worldwide. With their intricately patterned shells, sleepy demeanour and adorable yet slightly grumpy looking facial expressions it’s easy to see why. Relatively little is known about sea turtles, and scientists and naturalist are still unravelling the mysteries surrounding the lives of these reptiles. Below we’ve listed some of the coolest facts about sea turtles that we bet you never knew.
Sea turtles ‘fingerprints’ are on their head.
Just like our fingerprints are used to tell us apart, individual sea turtles can be identified by the pattern on the top of their head. Each and every turtle in the world has a different unique pattern, and no two are exactly the same.
They can outlive humans.
Sea turtles are one of the long-lived species on this planet. They can grow to be over 100 years old! Sea turtles take an incredibly long time to reach sexual maturity, and most species aren’t ready to mate until the age of 35.
They lay their eggs on the exact same beach they were born
When sea turtles eventually reach sexual maturity, they migrate towards mating grounds to breed and lay their eggs. These grounds usually lie just off the nesting beach or are along the way. The phenomenal thing about sea turtles is that females return to the exact same beach year after year to lay their eggs, and this beach is in turn the one they originally began their own life on. Sea turtles often navigate hundreds of kilometers to return to this particular beach, and scientists believe they do this through numerous methods including magnetic navigation and memory of landmarks. I am someone who uses Google maps almost every day, so however they do it I am completely blown away by sea turtles natural in-built GPS systems.
Male sea turtles never venture on land
Once a sea turtle hatches from its egg and makes the mad dash to the ocean (one of the many and biggest challenges a sea turtle will face in its lifetime) males never return, and females only do so to lay their own eggs. With their strong flippers that enable them to literally fly through the water at over 30 km’s an hour, they are well adapted for a life at sea. To be honest, if my home was the tropical waters of places such as the Great Barrier Reef, Indonesia or the Maldives I’d never leave the water either!
Their favourite food is jellyfish
Species of sea turtles will have different shaped mouths and jaws depending on what their diet consists of. Green sea turtles are vegetarian, and only eat seagrass. Their jaws are shaped like garden shears with a sharp, serrated edge perfect for cutting sea grass and algae. Many species of sea turtle love chowing down on jellyfish. In fact, Leatherback turtles only eat jellyfish! Because of this sea turtles are very susceptible to ingesting plastic bags, as the similarities between jellies and plastic bags underwater is hard for a human to see let alone a sea turtle. Over 100, 000 marine animals die every year from eating or becoming entangled in plastic so by reducing the amount of plastic bags you use you’re actively contributing to sea turtle conservation.
They disappear for a whole chunk of their life
Nobody knows where sea turtles live or what they do from the time they begin their lives as tiny hatchlings to when they are seen feeding in coastal water as juveniles. Sea turtle research pioneer, Archie Carr referred to this time period as the ‘lost years’. Scientists are slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and research suggests that the baby sea turtles slowly make their way out to the open ocean where, swimming for only a few hours at a time and resting on floating seaweed.
Want to dive with sea turtles? Jumping on an overnight dive live aboard is one of the best ways to spend some time underwater with these beautiful animals.