at night. Under natural conditions, the hatchlings usethe bright, open view of the night sky over the waterto ﬁnd their way to the sea. However, artiﬁcial lights onbeachfront buildings and roadways distract hatchlings,causing them to travel away from the ocean and towardthe brighter lights located inland. Because of this dan-ger, many beachfront communities in Florida haveadopted lighting ordinances requiring lights to be shutoff or shielded during the nesting and hatching season.
A Sea Turtle Sampler:Florida’s Five Species of Sea Turtles
The most common sea turtle in Florida, the loggerheadis named for its massive, block-like head. It is amongthe larger of the sea turtles; an adult weighs an averageof 275 pounds. Its carapace, which is about three feetlong, is reddish-brown on top and creamy yellowunderneath; it is very broad near the front of the turtleand tapers toward the rear. Each of its ﬂippers has twoclaws. As is true for all sea turtles, the adult male hasa long tail, whereas the female’s tail is short; however,a juvenile’s sex cannot be determined externally.The powerful jaws of the loggerhead allow it toeasily crush the clams, crabs, and other armoredanimals it eats. A slow swimmer compared to other seaturtles, the loggerhead occasionally falls prey to sharks,and it is not uncommon to see an individual that ismissing ﬂippers or chunks of its shell. However, theloggerhead compensates for its lack of speed withstamina; for example, a loggerhead that had beentagged at Melbourne Beach was captured off the coastof Cuba 11 days later.
Green turtles, named for their green body fat, werevalued by European settlers in the New World for theirmeat, hide, eggs, and “calipee” (the fat, attached to thelower shell, that formed the basis of the popular greenturtle soup). Merchants learned that the turtles couldbe kept alive by turning them on their backs in a shadedarea. This discovery made it possible to ship freshturtles to overseas markets. By 1878, 15,000 green tur-tles each year were shipped from Florida and theCaribbean to England. In Key West, formerly a majorprocessing center for the trade, the turtles were kept inwater-ﬁlled pens known as “kraals,” or corrals. Thesecorrals now serve a benign role as a tourist attraction.A more streamlined-looking turtle than the bulkyloggerhead, the green turtle weighs an average of 350pounds and has a small head for its body size. Itsoval-shaped upper shell averages 3.3 feet in length andis olive-brown with darker streaks running through it;its lower shell, called the plastron, is yellow.Green turtles are found during the day in shallowﬂats and seagrass meadows. Every evening, they returnto their usual sleeping quarters—scattered rock ledges,oyster bars, and coral reefs. Adult green turtles areunique among sea turtles in that they are largelyvegetarians, consuming principally seagrasses andalgae. Each year, from June through late September,approximately 100 to 1,000 green turtles nest onFlorida’s beaches.
The leatherback is a fascinating and unique animal,even among sea turtles. It is larger, dives deeper, travelsfarther, and tolerates colder waters than any other seaturtle. Most leatherbacks average 6 feet in length andweigh from 500 to 1,500 pounds, but the largestleatherback on record was nearly 10 feet long andweighed more than 2,000 pounds.The leatherback looks distinctively different fromother sea turtles. Instead of a shell covered with scutes,the leatherback is covered with a ﬁrm, leathery skin andhas seven ridges running lengthwise down its back. Theturtle is black with white, pink, and cobalt-blue
The contiguous beaches of Brevard, Indian River, St.Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach counties are the most important loggerhead nursery areas in the WesternHemisphere, attracting more than 15,000 femaleloggerheads each May through August. Many of Florida’s green turtles have numerous warts ontheir bodies called ﬁbropapillomas. Researchers believethese growths are caused by a virus but have not yet isolated a speciﬁc pathogen. The number of greenturtles with these tumors appears to be increasing.