Dec 10, 2012
THE LIFE OF AN OLIVE RIDLEY
One of the smallest known sea turtles is the olive ridley turtle, Lepidochelys olivacea. The olive ridley was named for the olive color of its heart-shaped shell, the carapace (U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service, 2012). As hatchlings emerge from their shell they are mostly black with greenish hues on their sides and about 4 cm in length. As they become adults, they develop their full olive green color and reach between 55 and 80 cm in length. At birth these turtles weigh about 28g; as adults, the average weight ranges from 35 to 50 kg. Between regions the size and morphology of these turtles varies. For example, the carapace of an olive ridley in the Atlantic Ocean can be darker than ridleys found in the Pacific (NOAA Fisheries, 2012).
Olive ridley turtles are distributed in tropical regions of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. Olive ridleys are found along the Atlantic coasts of West Africa and South America as well as from Southern California to Northern Chile (NOAA Fisheries, 2012). Sea turtles almost never leave the ocean because they become much slower and defenseless on land. However, females do so annually to nest (Marine Bio Conservation Society).
An olive ridley turtle reaches sexual maturity younger than most other turtles at 13 to 15 years old (NOAA Fisheries, 2012). The majority of nesting occurs along continental margins and almost never on oceanic islands. Olive ridleys are well known for their large gatherings during nesting with other turtles known as arribadas (U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service, 2012), when hundreds or even thousands of females come to shore at the same time to lay their eggs. Not all females participate in arribadas; others dig up another turtle’s clutch of eggs to make room for their own (NOAA Fisheries, 2012). Most females lay 1 to 3 times per season, laying about 100 eggs each time (U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service, 2012). The entire nesting process usually occurs at night in 1 to 3 hours. The female leaves the ocean and comes to shore making her way up the beach to dig a pit for her eggs. She then covers them with sand and disguises the nest by flinging sand over the hole with her flippers (Marine Bio Conservation Society). The incubation period lasts between 50 and 60 days (NOAA Fisheries, 2012). After nearly two months the hatchlings are ready to emerge, most often at night, and then use the light reflecting from the ocean to find their way to the ocean (Marine Bio Conservation Society).
Sea turtles spend most of their lives submerged underwater, enabling them to rest or sleep underwater for hours at a time. Because of the environment they live in their diet includes crabs, shrimp, lobsters, jellyfish, mollusks, tunicates, fish and in some parts of the world, algae (U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service, 2012). Sea turtles have few predators and are mostly hunted by large sharks such as the tiger shark. Their hatchlings, however, are preyed upon by many animals such as birds, dogs, raccoons, fish, etc (Sea Turtles: Conservation & Research). Because olive ridley turtles like open tropical waters they are difficult to study. The most current population estimates approximately 800,000 nesting females according to measurements taken in 2004 (NOAA Fisheries, 2012). Why is the species endangered?
Olive ridley sea turtles are considered both endangered and threatened depending on the region (Sea Turtles: Conservation & Research). They are also seen as the most abundant sea turtle on the planet. The large decline is based on human impact. Major reasons include the hunting and killing of adult turtles, collection of turtle eggs, loss of nesting habitat, commercial fishing and human developments.
The shells, eggs, and meat are valuable to human’s for consumption or sale purposes. Killing an adult female turtle takes away from the number of turtles able to reproduce...