To begin your life by fighting your way through the shell of an egg is already hard. But then to realize that you are underground and have to spend another 3-7 days digging yourself to the surface – that sounds like a horror movie for us. In fact, this is how the life of every sea turtle begins.
But before this hard childhood, there are a number of other factors that need to be considered before a sea turtle can make its way into the expanse of the ocean. It all starts with a female turtle traveling several thousand kilometers to find a suitable place for her nest.
For example, it has been found that the leatherback turtle covers distances of up to 4,800 km or more.
When a suitable beach has finally been found, the female turtle walks several meters to the beach under the cover of darkness and digs a hole into which she places (depending on the species) her 50-350 eggs. These are then buried and the mother returns to the sea. The eggs and the growing turtles are now on their own.
By the way, the temperature of the sand decides the gender: The cooler the sand, the higher the probability that the offspring will become male. After 50-60 days, the hatching and the tedious digging to the surface begins.
Here, too, the boys orientate themselves to the temperature: when it’s cool, they know that it’s safer for predators at night (the only turtle species that hatches during the day is the Atlantic Ridley Turtle).
Then, finally, they are on the beach. But how do you know which way the sea is going? The sound of the waves, magnetic fields and the reflected moonlight in the surf – researchers are not sure what determines the path of the boys, perhaps a mixture of everything.
The offspring, who has made it into the open sea despite various predators (dogs, birds, reptiles, etc.), swims out for days without food.
The only “food” they have for this long journey is the yolk they took when they hatched. In the open sea, the boys spend 3-5 years until they are in the shallower waters. Little is known about the life of the growing animals.
Sea turtles in Malaysia
Those traveling in Southeast Asia have a great chance of finding sea turtles in Malaysia. Four of the six species have their breeding and feeding sites on the coast and on the islands: the leatherback turtle and olive ridley turtle are found only on the east coast and their stock has declined sharply, while the green turtle (the name is not accidentally .. .) and Hawksbill Turtle are also found on the west coast and on Borneo.
But like everywhere else in the world, the sea turtle in Malaysia does not only struggle with predators: the environmental and especially marine pollution is a danger for them.
Also, many turtles come as bycatch in fishing nets. Information centers and education programs of various nature conservation organizations should point out the problems, but also have the goal to actively support the migration of young sea turtles from their nest to the sea. Fishermen are taught how to lay their nets in order to catch only what they actually want to catch.
I’ve been to a small sea turtle information and protection center on Malaysia’s east coast, the Cherating Turtle Sanctuary. The center opened in 1998 and looks after the eggs and the hatched boys on the beach.
Some are also captured and protected until they are larger and can be released into the open sea. It also serves as a rescue station for injured older animals.