It’s Wednesday evening, May 17th just about 8 PM. I’m sitting in a hot tub with one arm around my lovely wife Cathy and the other hand is holding a glass of wine as I watch the sun set over the water. This certainly sounds like a great way to end an evening on Marco Island. The thing is, I’m not on Marco or anywhere in South Florida. I’m watching this beautiful sunset on the west shore of Maui in the Hawaiian Islands.
It’s interesting that things here on the Ka’anapali shore can be so similar to those on Marco. Sunsets, birds nesting, flowers blooming and similar migrations are taking place at this time. What? Similar migrations 5,000 miles apart! How can that be?
Many of you are aware that sea turtles are nesting in South Florida for the next few months on our area beaches and most of you are familiar with the loggerhead turtles that lay their eggs here. Did you know that we also have green sea turtles nesting here as well? Did you know that green sea turtles are also nesting at the exact same time in the Hawaiian Islands? Yes, it is indeed so!
Most green sea turtles in Florida nest on the Atlantic coast, but we do have several in the Marco/Keewaydin Island area. Actually they nest in more than 80 different countries in the tropic and subtropic regions around the world, including Florida, Costa Rica and the Northwestern
Hawaiian Islands, Australia and the Galápagos Islands.
They obtain their name not from the color of their shell, but from the color of their fat. Of the seven living species of sea turtles in the world, the green turtles would be the largest hard shell variety. They can reach a length of more than three feet and weigh more than 500 pounds. The leatherback sea turtles are much larger, but they are not considered a “hard shell” species.
The green turtles’ dorsal shell, also known as the carapace, can range in color from olive green to grey and even black. The shell on the underside, called the plastron, will be a yellow shade. The carapace will display four lateral scutes, or side scales, to help differentiate them from other species, and the flippers willhave one visible claw. If you see a tail on the rear of the body you are probably viewing a male.
Reproduction is similar to the loggerhead turtles. The females will leave the water and sculpt a nest with their fins. First they will work all four fins to create a body cavity. Then the rear flipper will create a hole in that cavity where the eggs will be deposited. The average nest will contain about 100 eggs. The female can produce one to seven nests per season, about two weeks between each nesting. She will return to do this on average every two to three years. Eggs will incubate for about two months. When the hatchlings appear from the nest they will be about two inches long and weigh about one ounce.
Just like the loggerheads, the emergence from the nest is a critical time in the lives of the hatchlings. They have a mad dash from the nest area to the water’s edge and, in both Florida and Hawaii, there are a number of predators waiting to prey on them. Here in Florida the predators are raccoons, crabs and a variety of birds. In Hawaii, most of these turtles nest on an island called the French Frigate Shoals, about 500 miles northwest of Oahu. Since the isle has the word “frigate” in its name, you can imagine the number of these birds waiting for an easy meal.
The population of the green sea turtle has been similarly affected in Hawaii and Florida by habitat loss and pollution. There also seems to be a growing concern about fibropapilloma (FP), a disease associated with lesions and rapid tumor growth on the eyes, mouth, soft skin areas and internal organs. FP is believed to be connected to pollution and, again, has affected the Florida and Hawaii numbers.
My wife Cathy and I have taken five snorkel dives this vacation with turtle sightings on three of them. We will be out in the water when the sun rises tomorrow to see what else we can find. Want to know what we saw? I’ll keep you posted!
Bob is the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours and a naturalist for a dolphin survey team on board the Dolphin Explorer. Bob loves his wife very much!