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Why You Shouldn’t Pick Up Baby Sea Turtles

Why You Shouldn’t Pick Up Baby Sea Turtles

They’re the cutest. But here’s why you should (probably) leave them alone
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Who doesn’t love baby turtles?

Turtles are amazing. Baby turtles (also known as hatchlings) are even more amazing!

The tiny reptiles with their small heads, minuscule feet and soft shells are a real crowd-pleaser. They make absolutely adorable noises that make them impossible not to love.

We all want to do our uttermost to protect these defenceless toddlers against the dangers of the world.

But how do we do that?

In this article, we’ll let you know how to best help baby sea turtles, what to do and perhaps most importantly what not to do.

Turtle hatchery
According to WWF, “nearly all species of sea turtle are now classified as endangered, with three of the seven existing species being critically endangered”.
Baby sea turtle in Indonesia
Small, vulnerable and absolutely adorable. Here’s a baby sea turtle on Gili Meno in Indonesia.

The hatching of baby sea turtles

Once every 1 to 9 years, female sea turtles find a place to lay their eggs. They usually return to where they were hatched themselves.

Every 2 weeks for 2 to 6 cycles, they lay 65 to 180 eggs for a total of up to 1,000 eggs in the nests.

After she has laid her eggs, the female sea turtle returns to the ocean before the eggs hatch.

The time it takes for the eggs to hatch varies. Colder nests produce male hatchlings while warmer nests produce female hatchlings.

The dangers of hatching

When the baby turtles break out of their eggs in the nest, they need to make their way to the ocean as quickly as possible.

The dangers on this relatively short journey are immense.

Even the smallest obstacles are huge for these tiny creatures, and they’re incredibly vulnerable to predators such as birds, crabs, dogs and racoons on land.

To maximise their chances of survival, baby turtles usually wait until the sand is cool at night to make the trek to the ocean. This makes them less likely to overheat or to be eaten.

If they actually make it into the waves, they begin swimming like crazy for days to get away from the most dangerous nearshore waters.

Years later, female sea turtles return to shore to start the cycle over.

Baby sea turtle in the ocean
It’s estimated that only about 1 out of 1,000 baby sea turtles will end up making it to adulthood.
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What can you do to help the turtles?

In many places around the globe, sea turtle sanctuaries have been set up to help give sea turtles the best possible start at life as well as to care for injured or sick turtles.

While researching the place diligently is important, generally supporting turtle sanctuaries and turtle organisations is a great way to help the turtles.

Turtle hatcheries

The best thing for sea turtles is to be released at night and for them to crawl themselves into the ocean.

If you stumble upon a turtle hatchery charging money from tourists to release turtles into the water by day, it’s a good idea to think twice about the operation.

While these hatcheries might have good intentions, the heavy human interaction can negatively impact the turtles’ chances of survival.

Hatcheries should never become the main way turtles are conserved. In some situations, they can be seen as a last resort.

Turtles in tank
Sea turtle babies in tanks are a conservation no-no.
Turtles in tank
For example, they risk transmitting diseases as well as have problems with their imprinting process by delaying their journey to the ocean.

Why you shouldn’t touch baby sea turtles

Give a man in a foreign country a dollar or two and get the chance to directly release a baby turtle into the ocean yourself. What could be wrong with that?

Apart from the general issues of turtle hatcheries, which you can learn much more about here, touching baby sea turtles can be problematic in its own right.

Baby sea turtles are super fragile, and you can easily damage their soft shell and organs or even break their food sac if you don’t handle them extremely carefully.

Both hands should be used wearing latex gloves or similar.

Ideally, sea turtles should never be touched by humans at all, though, and if they are then only by trained professionals or people who have undergone training.

It’s also important for the turtles to crawl in the sand themselves directly after hatching in what’s known as the imprinting process, helping them to later return to the same beach to nest.

Child touching a baby sea turtle
There’s no reason a tourist should be allowed to touch a baby sea turtle (apart from profit).
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Should you turn a turtle if it’s moving away from the ocean?

Yes, very carefully,

Turtles evolved to head for the brightest spot after hatching – which is naturally the ocean illuminated by the stars and moon.

But what happens if the turtles hatch on a beach near artificial light such as from streets and beach bars?

They get confused and may head the wrong way!

If you ever see a baby turtle moving away from the ocean instead of towards it, you can help its chances of survival by gently turning it back towards the ocean.

To further support the turtle, you can stay near it to scare away predators.

Avoid using a flashlight as the white light confuses the turtles. Red light can be used instead.

Turtle away from ocean
if a turtle is moving away from the ocean, you can help it by slowly turning it around.

Some facts about sea turtles

  • Turtles are absolutely ancient creatures (even more so than sharks and crocodiles!) and are sometimes called the cousins of dinosaurs. Turtles developed more than 100 million years ago.
  • The world’s smallest turtle is the speckled padloper tortoise from South Africa, measuring just 8 cm (3.1 in) in length.
  • The largest turtle is the leatherback turtle, growing up to almost 3 metres long and weighing half a ton.
  • There are 7 known species of sea turtles and they’re almost all endangered because they have been hunted for food, their eggs have been harvested to be eaten, humans have polluted the oceans and destroyed their habitats.
  • Female sea turtles will return to where they were hatched to lay eggs if they survive. Only 1 in 1,000 baby sea turtles born will actually make it to adulthood.
  • Sea turtles can live to be 50 years or older, often reaching maturity when they’re 20 to 30 years old.
  • Sea turtles live all around the world, mostly in warmer waters near the coast.
A sea turtle heading to the ocean from a hatchery in Mexico
A sea turtle heading to the ocean from a hatchery in Mexico.

What is threatening the survival of sea turtles?

Sea turtles have been around for over 100 million years, but now they’re in danger.

The threats are many, and if we don’t all do our part to help them, these beautiful creatures could be gone forever.

  • Climate change: As a turtle’s sex is directly related to temperature, warmer weather could unbalance the ratio and result in too many female hatchlings.
  • Habitat loss: Coasts are being developed all over the world, meaning disturbed nesting places and problems with light pollution.
  • Bycatch: The fishing industry has a huge problem with bycatch (unintended capture) of birds and ocean life, including dolphins and turtles.
  • Sea pollution: Sea turtles routinely become entangled in fishing nets and drown, get caught in plastic bags leading to suffocation or even eat the plastic bags as they look like jellyfish. Not good!
  • Illegal trade: Turtle meat and eggs are, unfortunately, a delicacy in some places. Additionally, turtle skin is used for leather and their shells are sold as souvenirs.
Turtle swimming
Turtles are clumsy on land but are actually fantastic swimmers.
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Be a part of the solution

What can you do to help sea turtles?

Here are 5 ideas to be a part of the solution:

  1. Avoid buying turtle souvenirs. Self-explanatory, really. The same, of course, goes for eating them or their eggs.
  2. Cut your carbon emissions. Not easy, but global warming is a real threat to sea turtles.
  3. Stop eating fish. Bycatch from the fishing industry is a huge problem for turtles as well as plastic pollution such as fishing nets.
  4. Cut plastic. Marine animals in the range of 100 million a year die from plastic pollution in our oceans.
  5. Check your sunscreen. Some chemicals can damage reefs and destroy the habitat of turtles. Look for organic, reef-safe sunscreen not containing oxybenzone.
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Turtle on sand towards the sea
The turtles thank you!

Thank you for reading

And thank you for wanting to take better care of all living beings, including sea turtles.

You are awesome!

To help spread awareness, you can share this article with a friend or on your social media profiles.

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments too.

Why You Shouldn’t Pick Up Baby Sea Turtles
Why You Shouldn’t Pick Up Baby Sea Turtles
Why You Shouldn’t Pick Up Baby Sea Turtles

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