Many visitors of the Canary Islands come to admire one of the famous inhabitants of this archipelago: the sea turtles. These are beautiful animals that are the joy of those lucky enough to meet them. Here are 5 facts that will surprise you about them:
- Sea turtles have lived with the dinosaurs! Scientists have discovered fossil traces attesting their existence more than 200 million years ago!
- Turtles are reptiles that are adapted to the marine environment. But these animals need to return to the mainland for egg-laying. By orienting themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field, turtles can travel thousands of miles to return to where they were born and lay their eggs in the sand overnight.
- And since they are reptiles, they also need to breathe air from the surface! But a turtle can stay underwater for a long…long time. They can sleep underwater for several hours without having to reach the surface and they can descend very deep into the water (sometimes more than 1000 meters!)
- Turtles can live many years: until 40 to 70 years old. Unfortunately, nowadays, their life expectancy is decreasing as they face many dangers due to climate change, pollution, destruction and urbanization of breeding beaches, overfishing, and so on. That’s why these animals are protected by the Canarian government and must be respected by all. But action plans for protection are not always efficient and it is very difficult to ensure the long-term survival of certain species.
- There are 7 species of marine turtles in the world and the Canary Islands are home to 6 of these species. Here is a short description of each of them:
- The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest of the seven species of marine turtle. It can measure 2 meters and weigh between 450 and 950 kilos. It does not have a large carapace with scales but rather a cartilage and a thick skin that protect its organs. We can recognize it by the lighter lines that go from his head to his tail and its dark blue skin. This animal lives more than 50 years and can stay more than 80 minutes under water and reach more than 1000 meters deep!
- The hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata): It is recognized by its thick scales which are also very popular for trade, making it one of the most endangered marine turtles because of poaching. It is smaller than the previous one: it measures between 60 and 100 cm and weighs between 43 and 75 kg. This species can not breed until it reaches 10 years old.
- The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) is a turtle that is often seen in the waters of Tenerife. It is this species that was the star of el Puertito de Armeñime bay but they disappeared from this place last year. This creature weighs between 80 and 130 kg and measures a little over a meter. It is the fastest sea turtle and, contrary to what we can expect, it really means that it can swim very fast: 35 km/h! What sets it apart from other species is that it becomes herbivorous at a certain age. This is why they have a green color. The eggs are as big as a golf ball and the turtle lays them in a single hole but digs a dozen holes on the same beach to lure predators.
- The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is about 90 cm long and weighs 135 kg and its carapace is heart-shaped. It is one of the most common turtles in the Canary Islands. It can stay 4 hours under water, which is more than the other species. This turtle migrates a lot because it gets into a lethargic state when the water becomes too cold.
- The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) is highly endangered. It is one of the smallest species of sea turtles (up to 70 cm and 45 kg). These are the only species that spawn during the day.
- The olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) has a very domed and olive-colored shell. It does not have many safe nesting sites, so the species is in danger of extinction. Its presence in the Canary Islands is quite rare.
Sea turtles are remarkable animals full of surprises. When you encounter one, enjoy this special moment with these creatures that are in danger of extinction and remember to protect them by avoiding touching them or pursuing them. Just watching them and admiring their graceful swim is an unforgettable moment.