The Life of the Turtle

Photo by Carl Safina. Leatherback turtle hatchling in the Caribbean.
“Put a cookie-sized turtle into the ocean and years later it comes back to say hello. To reach adulthood, a hatchling must grow to 30 times its hatching length. When her belly first grinds ashore and feels gravity’s grip and the weight of what she’s achieved by surviving to maturity, a Leatherback has multiplied its hatchling weight 6,000-fold. Age to maturity remains uncertain, perhaps 12 years in Leatherbacks. As early as seven years in Kemp’s. Green Turtles and Loggerheads may not lay their first eggs until they’ve got 35 years or more of survival under their belts. Longevity remains uncertain; science has not been involved long enough to see full lifespans, and the number of breeding seasons in the life of a female remains likewise uncertain. The longest known Leatherback nesting career, a South African female, spanned 18 years. Most researchers seem to think sea turtles can live at least two decades after maturing, so sea turtle lifespan likely falls into the 40-to-60 year range. Some undoubtedly have lived far longer, especially when the world was safer for them. Like returning salmon, sea turtles generally breed at the place of their own origin. Returning to a pinpoint target after as much as three decades at sea is one of nature’s most stunning navigational and homing achievements. Somehow they know how to get there. But what they find might surprise them. Nowadays 10 years can change a beach from one of jungles to Jacuzzis.”
–Carl Safina, Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth’s Last Dinosaur

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