This sea turtle's dorsoventrally flattened body is covered by a large, teardrop-shaped carapace; it has a pair of large, paddle-like flippers. It is usually lightly colored, although in the eastern Pacific populations parts of the carapace can be almost black. Unlike other members of its family, such as the hawksbill sea turtle, C. mydas is mostly herbivorous. The adults usually inhabit shallow lagoons, feeding mostly on various species of seagrasses. The turtles bite off the tips of the blades of seagrass, which keeps the grass healthy.
Like other sea turtles, green sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. Many islands worldwide are known as Turtle 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 scramble into the water. Those that reach maturity may live to eighty years 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 due to human activity. In some countries, turtles and their eggs are hunted for food. Pollution indirectly harms turtles at both population and individual scales. Many turtles die after being caught in fishing nets. Also, real estate development often causes habitat loss by eliminating nesting beaches.
The green sea turtle can generally be found throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Individuals have been spotted as far north as Canada in the western Atlantic, and the British Isles in the east. The subpopulation's southern range is known until past the southern tip of Africa in the east and Argentina in the western Atlantic. The major nesting sites can be found on various islands in the Caribbean, along the eastern shores of the continental United States, the eastern coast of the South American continent and most notably, on isolated North Atlantic islands.
Atlantic subpopulation Edit
In the Caribbean, major nesting sites have been identified on Aves Island, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica. In recent years there are signs of increased nesting in the Cayman Islands. One of the region's most important nesting grounds is in Tortuguero in Costa Rica. In fact, the majority of the Caribbean region's C. mydas population hails from a few beaches in Tortuguero. Within United States waters, minor nesting sites have been noted in the states of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and all along the east coast of Florida. Hutchinson Islandin particular is a major nesting area in Florida waters. Notable locations in South America include secluded beaches in Suriname and French Guiana. In the Southern Atlantic Ocean, the most notable nesting grounds for Chelonia mydas are found on the island of Ascension, hosts 6,000–13,000 turtle nests.
In contrast with the sporadic distribution of nesting sites, feeding grounds are much more widely distributed throughout the region. Important feeding grounds in Florida include Indian River Lagoon, the Florida Keys, Florida Bay, Homosassa, Crystal River, and Cedar Key.
Indo-Pacific subpopulation Edit
In the Pacific, its range reaches as far north as the southern coast of Alaska and as far south as Chile in the east. The turtle's distribution in the western Pacific reaches north to Japan and southern parts of Russia's Pacific coast, and as far south as the northern tip of New Zealand and a few islands south of Tasmania. The turtles can be found throughout the Indian Ocean.
Significant nesting grounds are scattered throughout the entire Pacific region, including Mexico, the Hawaiian Islands, the South Pacific, the northern coast of Australia, and Southeast Asia. Major Indian Ocean nesting colonies include India, Pakistan, and other coastal countries. The east coast of the African continent hosts a few nesting grounds, including islands in the waters around Madagascar.
Nesting grounds are found all along the Mexican coast. These turtles feed in seagrass pastures in the Gulf of California. Green turtles belonging to the distinct Hawaiian subpopulation nest at the protected French Frigate Shoals some 800 kilometers (500 mi) west of the Hawaiian Islands. In the Philippines, green turtles nest in the Turtle Islands along with closely related hawksbill turtles. Indonesia has a few nesting beaches, one in the Meru Betiri National Reserve in East Java. The Coral Sea has nesting areas of world significance. The Great Barrier Reef has two genetically distinct populations; one north and one south. Within the reef, twenty separate locations consisting of small islands and cays were identified as nesting sites for either population of C. mydas. Of these, the most important is on Raine Island. Major nesting sites are common on either side of the Arabian Sea, both in Ash Sharqiyah, Oman, and along the coast of Karachi, Pakistan. Some specific beaches there, such as Hawke's Bay and Sandspit, are common to both C. mydas and L. olivacea subpopulation. Sandy beaches along Sindh and Balochistan are nesting sites. Some 25 kilometers (16 mi) off the Pakistani coast, Astola island is another nesting beach.
On 30 December 2007, fishermen using a hulbot-hulbot (a type of fishnet) accidentally caught an 80 kg (180 lb), 93 cm (37 in) and 82 cm (32 in) wide, turtle off Barangay Bolong, Zamboanga City, Philippines. December is breeding season near the Bolong beach.
Life cycle Edit
Green sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding sites and nesting sites; some swim more than 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) to reach their spawning grounds. Mature turtles often return to the exact beach from which they hatched. Females usually mate every two to four years. Males, on the other hand, visit the breeding areas every year, attempting to mate. Mating seasons vary between populations. For most C. mydas in the Caribbean, mating season is from June to September. The French Guiana nesting subpopulation nests from March to June. In the tropics, green turtles nest throughout the year, although some subpopulations prefer particular times of the year. In Pakistan, Indian Ocean turtles nest year-round, but prefer the months of July to December.
Green sea turtles mating is similar to other marine turtles. Female turtles control the process. A few populations practice polyandry, although this does not seem to benefit hatchlings. After mating in the water, the female moves above the beach's high tide line, where she digs a hole with her hind flippers and deposits her eggs. Clutch size depends on the age of the female and species, but can range between 100 and 200. She then covers the nest with sand and returns to the sea.
At around 50 to 70 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, feed on 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. It is estimated that only 1% of hatchlings reach sexual maturity.
Each year on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, C. mydas females create 6,000 to 25,000 nests. They are among the largest green turtles in the world; many are more than a metre in length and weigh up to 300 kilograms (660 lb).