25 Jun 2019 15:03:14
Surprising Reasons We Need Sea Turtles
How much do you know about these beautiful marine creatures? Let’s go underwater to uncover some surprising sea turtle facts!
Cutting the Grass
Many sea turtles – especially the Green Sea Turtle – feed on seagrass, the vibrant green underwater grass that grows in the shallows. It’s an essential stabiliser in the ecosystem, helping to secure the loose seabed and prevent erosion. But not many animals eat seagrass, so sea turtles are essential ‘lawnmowers,’ chopping the grass down to a helpful length. This encourages it to grow thicker, not tall and spindly – a lot like the reason we mow our backyard lawns. These underwater meadows serve as breeding grounds for many of the fish species we rely upon for food. So, to protect the food chain, it’s necessary to protect sea turtles too.
Sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, and in doing so, help to distribute nutrients through the sand dunes. The beach isn’t a highly fertile place, but when turtles dig their nests, they help to churn nutrients through the sand, the same way we might turn over a garden. Turtles lay eggs en masse, and naturally, not all of them will hatch. This might sound sad, but in truth, these leftover eggs provide excellent nutrients for the sand dune ecosystem. More nutrients mean stronger plants, which offer more cover and stabilise the dunes. In turn, this means more turtles can nest, and so the cycle continues.
If you’re a bit scared of jellyfish, you’ll be pleased to know some sea turtles eat them! And not just a few here and there – we’re talking about tonnes of stingers! Leatherback Turtles are incredibly fond of jellies. Keeping numbers under control is important, to give fish species a chance to repopulate without getting trapped by tentacles. It’s a similar situation on coral reefs, where Hawksbill Turtles help regulate sea sponge numbers. If biting into a sponge seems like an unpleasant thought, you’re not alone. Their texture and taste turn off most predators, except the Hawksbill, whose spongey snacking keeps the coral ecosystem in balance. Just another reason to protect our sea turtles.
Rehabilitation to Release
There are seven sea turtle species: Flatback, Green, Hawksbill, Kemp’s Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley. To see sea turtles in real life, and learn more about their amazing lives, visit us here at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s. We’re the only place in New Zealand where sea turtles are rehabilitated and released back into the ocean. When sick or injured sea turtles are found on the NZ coast, they’re brought to us to be assessed and treated. Then they’re settled peacefully into a special rehabilitation area, to recover, and gather strength for their journey back to the ocean! On your visit, you’ll experience what’s involved in getting the turtles back home. We like to do our part to help sea turtles, and save them from extinction.