Green sea turtles are hatching around the world from now through October. Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings
make it to adulthood.
So how do these lucky few hatchling even make it out of their nests and to the ocean? With a little help from their siblings, of course.
An experiment done by researchers at the University Malaysia Terengganu showed that baby sea turtles expended less energy and made it out of their nest at a higher rate when they were buried with a larger number of their siblings.
For the experiment, the scientists covered the eggs in a layer of tinfoil and hooked it up to a battery, creating a circuit on top of the nest. Then, when the first turtle broke out of its egg, the circuit was broken and the scientists could observe the number of days that it took for the clutch of turtles to break out of the sand. They found that in larger clutches, baby turtles made it out in three and a half days, while in the smallest clutches, the turtles took 8 days to break the surface of the sand.
This is because they had fewer siblings to help them dig their way out.
This delay in time also meant that each individual turtle in the smaller clutches was expending a lot more energy — a precious commodity for a tiny creature that is fighting for its life.
By monitoring the oxygen output in the cages that the turtles were buried in, the researchers were able to determine how much energy they were using. It turned out that the clutches with the most siblings used only about 10% of their stored energy (which comes from the nutrients in their egg shells), while clutches with fewer siblings used up to 67% of their energy stores.
Depleting this much energy could mean death for some turtles. Green sea turtle hatchlings are only about 2 inches long when they hatch. After emerging from the sand, they must make a quick dash to the safety of the ocean, so they need all the energy they can get to make it (and avoid predators, like ghost crabs, birds, and raccoons).
If these tiny turtles make it to adulthood, they transform into large creatures that can weigh over 300 pounds and reach up to 4 feet in length. Adult females reach sexual maturity between 20 and 50 years of age, when they then start laying eggs. From then on, females can lay 75 to 200 eggs in underground nests every 3 to 4 years.
Since the species is endangered, there are a lot of conservation projects working to help their numbers rebound. In fact, sometimes nests are dug up so that the baby turtles can be moved to a safer area.
The researchers of this study hope that their findings will be useful to conservationists, highlighting just how important it is to keep large clutches together in order to give hatchlings a better chance of survival.
Green turtles will be hatching for the next couple of months in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and over 80 other countries around the world. If you are lucky enough to witness this beautiful sight, be sure not to disturb the hatchlings.
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