Hawaii is a fascinating location with breathtaking vistas, a warm climate, and mind-blowing fauna and flora diversity.
This is the perfect home for numerous turtle species, out of which we’ll discuss the 5 most popular ones.
Turtles have been populating the Earth’s oceans for over 200 million years, which stands as proof of their amazing survivability and adaptation.
These reptiles are unlike any other animal on the planet, walking around covered by a shell made up of their own ribs. The shell is a vital part of the turtle’s body, houses its organs, and allows the reptile to cower inside in case of danger.
Now that you know the basics, let’s look into today’s sea turtles that you can find in Hawaii.
1. Green Sea Turtle
The green sea turtle is probably the most recognizable aquatic turtle in the world. This herbivorous reptile can reach 4 feet in size and weigh approximately 500 pounds as a full adult.
The animal’s lifespan gets close to 80 years, which depends on environmental conditions, diet, overall health, predators, and genetic makeup.
These fascinating animals have a varied diet that changes as they grow. Baby and juvenile turtles consume more animal matter like small crustaceans and jellyfish, among other things.
This is due to their higher metabolism and requirement for a plus of protein and fat. Adult turtles are herbivorous and only consume plant matter like algae and seagrass.
These turtles are aquatic animals, but they come on land occasionally too, especially to lay eggs. Interestingly, females always return to their birth place to lay the eggs for the future generation to emerge.
Unfortunately, green sea turtles are considered endangered today due to human activity, habitat destruction, and poaching, among other threats.
Fortunately, the green sea turtle is quite a proficient breeder, with the female being capable of laying up to 100 eggs or more per nest and they can produce several nests in one breeding season.
This gives this species the potential to flourish with a bit of help from humans.
2. Hawksbill Turtle
Hawksbill turtles are another fascinating species that ranks as endangered today. This turtle can reach 3 feet as a full-grown adult and weigh approximately 150 pounds.
The reptile’s native habitat covers a large geographical area, between the Caribbean Sea and the Indo-Pacific zone.
This reptile prefers to swim around corals, mangrove swamps, and lagoons, where they can find their favorite meals: sea sponges.
These animals have a diverse and opportunistic diet, consisting of multiple animals like crabs, jellyfish, various mollusks, algae, and other plant matter.
Their name comes from the noticeable bird-like beak, which the turtle uses to crack hard-shelled animals with ease. The turtle itself is gorgeous, with a brightly-colored carapace, exhibiting a variety of color patterns.
The turtle’s shell is its main point of attraction, which is what makes the animal so appreciated by illegal poachers.
This is the main reason why Hawksbill turtles aren’t seen too often in the wild. That and the fact that they’re nocturnal animals who spend their daytime in hiding.
3. Olive Ridley
The Olive Ridley turtle is nowhere near as colorful as the previous 2 species, but it is an exhilarating reptile species nonetheless. This species is most notably known for its olive-like shell coloring with little-to-no patterns.
The turtle has a pronounced beak, which it uses to dismember its prey, which consists of animals like crabs, shellfish, fish, and many other preys.
This species is widespread pretty much everywhere, including coastal America, parts of Africa, the Australian shores, and even Asia.
Despite this geographical adaptation, the Olive Ridley turtle has a vulnerable status in the wild. Several factors contribute to this status, including:
- The intense hunting and poaching for meat, shell, and egg gathering
- The destruction of nesting habitats, both incidental and intentional
- Ocean pollution via chemicals and plastics
Efforts are being made to protect and preserve the species, which is fairly difficult, given that Olive Ridley turtles only mate to produce eggs once every 2-3 years.
To make up for the long timespan between the reproductive sessions, female turtles all produce eggs at once. One female alone can produce in excess of 100-130 eggs in one batch and lay multiple batches on the same beach.
This can eventually result in a hatching frenzy with thousands of turtle hatchlings belonging to multiple females storming the beach D-Day-style.
These hatchlings are powerful swimmers, despite their size, and can traverse great distances in search of food and shelter.
As a more interesting fact, the Olive Ridley turtle is among the few social turtles you can find in the wild.
These reptiles are often spotted in large groups called arribadas, which explains their tendency to also gather in groups when spawning.
4. Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Loggerhead sea turtles are found in virtually any ocean, more often on the coasts of Europe, Africa, Australia, and North America.
They have adapted to a variety of ecosystems, allowing them to thrive in a multitude of marine habitats, estuaries, coastal waters, and even the open ocean.
These turtles are powerful and resilient swimmers, capable of swimming extreme distances in search of food and spawning areas.
The typical loggerhead turtle is about 3-4 feet in size and weighs approximately 350 pounds. This qualifies this species as large and heavy, capable of living up to 70 years or more in ideal conditions.
Loggerheads are notorious for being opportunistic eaters. They can consume anything if it provides them with some nutritional value. This includes mollusks, crustaceans, fish, jellyfish, and numerous invertebrates.
Their powerful beak, healthy appetite, and swimming resilience make them feared predators.
The Loggerhead turtle isn’t as vibrant as other turtle species in terms of appearance, but it displays quite the pattern variety, depending on the species.
Some species have smooth shells with dull colors like brown and orange, while others have spiky carapaces with protruding and rugged lobes. Some species also come with variations of red, but these are rarer.
Just like the other turtle species, this one is also endangered and vulnerable for all the same reasons.
Efforts are made to preserve the species and protect it against habitat destruction, poaching, and contamination with plastics and chemical spillage.
5. Leatherback Sea Turtle
The leatherback sea turtle is the most recognizable aquatic animal on the planet, on par with Great Whites, dolphins, and Blue Whales.
These iconic reptiles rank as the largest turtles on the planet, reaching up to 7-8 feet in size and weighing up to 2,000 pounds. This aquatic monster is a sight to behold, especially given its unusual look.
The leatherback sea turtle in the world is the only turtle that doesn’t have a bony carapace. Instead, its shell is formed by a series of small bony plates and cartilage, covered by a thin layer of skin.
The turtle also exhibits a scissor-like beak that, contrary to what you may think, they use to eviscerate jellyfish, rather than break hard-shelled animals. This is another peculiarity that we can’t fully explain – the fact that leatherbacks feed almost exclusively on jellyfish.
This explains the turtle’s anatomical weirdness, as the lack of a hardened shell provides the giant reptile with a plus of agility. The issue is that the jellyfish is very poor in nutrients, as it contains mostly water.
How, then, can the leatherback reach such impressive sizes while on such a poor diet remains a mystery to this day.
These reptiles are also highly adaptable, as they can regulate their body temperature better than other turtle species. This allows them to inhabit and explore waters that most turtles cannot.
They are also excellent swimmers, able to traverse thousands of miles to reach their preferred nesting sites.
Female leatherbacks produce clutches of 80-120 eggs, which will hatch in about 60-70 days, depending on the environmental conditions.
Unfortunately, this is also an endangered species that require special treatment to recover and thrive. Efforts are being made as we speak in this sense.
To summarize, Hawaii is a breathtaking destination with a remarkable assortment of flora and fauna, including numerous sea turtle species. This article delves into the distinguishing traits and behaviors of the five most popular turtle species inhabiting Hawaiian waters: the Green Sea Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Olive Ridley, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, and Leatherback Sea Turtle.
Each of these species possesses unique characteristics, dietary preferences, and environments, which makes them truly captivating and inspiring creatures. It’s unfortunate that all of these species are facing the threat of endangerment due to human activities, such as habitat destruction and poaching, among other risks.
Nevertheless, with concerted conservation efforts and increased public awareness, there is still optimism for these magnificent creatures to rebound and flourish in the future.